The Man Who Went Up in Smoke by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

man who went up in smoke

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.

Other reviews appear in CrimepiecesSmithereens, and Mysteries in Paradise.

8 thoughts on “The Man Who Went Up in Smoke by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

  1. Rebecca – I think you’ve hit on one of the things that makes this series so enduring. Yes, the technology has changed and some of society (like the smoking) has too. But there are universal themes in these novels and the writing style is, as you say, fresh and compelling. I’m so glad you’re enjoying this series. Honestly, it’s one of the few series that I think every crime fiction fan should read.

    • I have the rest of the series waiting for me, Margot, and I’m looking forward to it! A ten book commitment isn’t too onerous, which helps.

  2. I have probably said it before but… going to get to this series this year, with Roseanna. Then I hope to move through it fairly quickly… for me. That is, if I like it, which I think I will.

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