The Man Who Went Up in Smoke by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, translated by Joan Tate
Vintage, 1969, originally published as Mannen som gick upp i rök, 1966
Martin Beck book 2
Source: personal copy
I started the Martin Beck series about a year ago because it’s inspired so many other Swedish authors, and it’s turned into one of my favorite series, which is surprising because I tend to read more contemporary books with strong female protagonists. This series, so far, does not meet those criteria, but I don’t mind.
Like the first book in the series Roseanna, the title character is a mystery to Martin Beck and his investigatory team, but unlike Roseanna, the case starts as a missing persons case instead of a murder case. Beck is asked to pursue an unofficial investigation into the disappearance of a journalist named Alf Mattson who was last seen in Budapest. Beck cuts short his family vacation at a remote, phone-less island in Sweden with his family to travel to Budapest, and the Budapest section of the book is very interesting. It’s a vivid setting and a memorable atmosphere as Beck is followed by mysterious people during his time there. I don’t want to discuss the plot more because it’s such a brief novel. The only parts of the story that dated the novel, besides the trip to communist-era Hungary, were mentions of Dacron clothing, going to see James Bond films, and the prevalent smoking.
Finally, I have a couple reactions to the writing. It feels strange to call a book that’s almost fifty years old fresh, but it feels brisk and crisp to me even though the investigation takes time. I think the brief chapters as well as the shift of the action from Stockholm to Budapest keep the story moving along. Finally, it’s remarkable to me that Sjöwall and Wahlöö alternated writing chapters because it’s not obvious to me that the novel was written by two people. The tone and style seem uniform to me.