The Man on the Balcony by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

man balconyThe Man on the Balcony by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö
Translated by Alan Blair in 1968
Vintage Crime/ Black Lizard, 2009
Originally published as Mannen pa balkongen, 1967

This is the third book in the Martin Beck series by Sjöwall and Wahlöö, and according to the introduction by Jo Nesbø (one of the marketing bits on the cover of my edition), it’s based on a true story. It’s a police procedural focusing on brutal crimes committed against very young girls in June 1967 in Stockholm, and there is also a series of very violent muggings that occupy the first half of the book.

Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s crimes are always shockingly violent in the books I’ve read so far in the series, and the process of investigating always seems to be tough and time-consuming on Beck and on his team members Kollberg and others. Sjöwall and Wahlöö also bring in a couple younger police officers, and it gives them an opportunity to talk about why different people join the police force and what they accomplish day to day and throughout their careers.

I appreciated the brevity: the crimes were heinous enough, and I’m not sure I could have been able to keep reading about such a violent criminal on the loose if the book had been longer.

There are a couple spots where the translation feels out of date (talk of “stoolies,” for example), it’s strange to see so few female police officers (and in this book it’s only a mention of one), and times that I’m perplexed yet again why there is so much focus on young unmarried women character’s love lives, but otherwise the book feels contemporary.

I bought my copy of the book

Other reviews appear in Crimepieces and Reactions to Reading.


13 thoughts on “The Man on the Balcony by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

  1. Rebecca – I’m glad you enjoyed this. There really is a timeless quality about the stories in this series. I think it’s because of the way the authors explore the themes and develop the characters. It’s one reason I believe this series ought to be on every crime fiction lover’s ‘required reading’ list.

    • I’m a big fan of this series so far, and I’m trying not to read the next seven books in quick succession. The technology is a bit different than in contemporary books, but the investigative techniques and crimes seem to be very contemporary.

  2. I have only read the first one of this series and look forward to reading more; I have them, I just haven’t made time for them. I do like your brief reviews that tell just enough. I am working on trying to emulate that in my own reviews but haven’t succeeded very often.

    • Thanks, Tracy: it takes a bit more work to review a shorter book, I’ve found, and I try not to give away as much as the back cover or inner flaps give away. Hope you enjoy them!

  3. Thanks for the warning about the violence. I’ve really had enough of graphically violent books, so it’s good to know in advance that this series isn’t going to be for me. 🙂

    • It’s graphic but not overly long/gratuitous like quite a few books I’ve read this year have been, which is a plus, but I understand your desire to move on, FictionFan.

  4. Thanks for the link to my blog, Rebecca. This is the book that has stayed with me the most from the series although it’s is pretty shocking.

  5. Beck is fairly often on TV here (if I’m not wrong the scripts are original rather than adaptations of the novels) and I’ve never been a great fan for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, so it’s put me off reading the books a bit. This sounds as though it could be worth checking out though – maybe I will finally come around to Martin Beck!!

    • I’ve really enjoyed the three I’ve read so far, Claire, and they seem sort of timeless too: I’m not sure why the scripts would have to be originals.

    • You’re very welcome! I started the series after reading a few other bloggers who jumped into these books a few years ago, and I’m glad I did.

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