Two Swedish Crime Novels

I read a couple Swedish crime novels this month in succession, and writing this post takes me back a few years when I used to read a lot of them. Today’s post is about The Abominable Man and Firewall, a dash of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö and Henning Mankell.

The Abominable Man is a story about police brutality and how it gets entrenched in the police force. The book is nearly 50 years old, and it reads like it could have been written today. It’s a short and forceful story. It opens with a brutal murder of an ill retired police officer, and the climax of the book is a lengthy set-piece of a brutal attack on a number of police officers in Stockholm.

It’s a great, taut story, and I didn’t entirely expect the level of violence there was, in part because of this snippet about the painstaking process of criminal investigation early in the book:

Police work is built on realism, routine, stubbornness, and system. It’s true that a lot of difficult cases are cleared up by coincidence, but it’s equally true that coincidence is an elastic concept that mustn’t be confused with luck or accident. In a criminal investigation, it’s a question of weaving the net of coincidence as fine as possible. And experience and industry play a larger role there than brilliant inspiration. A good memory and ordinary common sense are more valuable qualities than intellectual brilliance. p. 31

Additionally, I remember Roseanna, the first installment in the series, being quite a slow story in terms of action. This is a great and interesting and scathing set of books, at least what I’ve read so far.

Next, I read Firewall by Henning Mankell, which while a police procedural spends a lot of time on just one inspector vs. The Abominable Man, which focused on a number of detectives. Firewall is a bit slow in comparison: Mankell spends plenty of time with the depressed and burnt out Wallander who is contemplating retirement. There are also several mentions of prior cases in prior books, so the fact that it’s been over 3 years since I read a book in this series was not a hindrance. It’s a story about some seemingly unrelated murders that are linked (of course), and as the case progresses, it involves a global conspiracy. It’s not a conspiracy-thriller though: it’s firmly a set of murder investigations.

Firewall is interesting to because it involves hackers years before The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, and it’s a sort of period piece because technology in 1998 is a world away from technology today. I must say, I prefer something a bit more thriller-like or with a tauter plot at this point in my reading life, though.

I recommend both books highly, and The Abominable Man is going on my list of best reads of the year.

The Abominable Man by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö , translated by Thomas Teal

2nd Vintage Crime/ Black Lizard edition

Originally published as Den vedervärdige mannen från Säffle , 1971

Book 7 in Martin Beck/ Story of a Crime series

Source: I bought my copy.

Firewall by Henning Mankell, translated by Ebba Segerberg

Originally published as Brandvägg , 1998

Book 9 in Wallander series

Source: I bought my copy.

Reading Margaret Maron for the First Time

My first read of 2019 was a good one: Fugitive Colors by Margaret Maron, which is book 8 in her Sigrid Harald series. It’s a police procedural, though the first half of the book is mostly a dive into Sigrid’s grief during her leave of absence from the police force in New York. She’s a homicide detective, and her partner was an older artist who died in a car crash in California before the book began. Sigrid takes on the sole responsibility of being his executor, which puts her into contact with a variety of art dealers and artists, one of whom dies halfway through the book.

A few observations:

  1. This book was published in 1995, which means I knew I had only a slight chance of finding an unreliable narrator in the book. So refreshing!
  2. I was happy to read a mystery, not a thriller. There was a little less action-y peril, and that fit my reading mood.
  3. Sigrid’s quirk is her interest in puzzle rings, not opera or cryptic crosswords.
  4. I’m not sure I’ve read a book with three short prequel sections versus one. It worked well in this one.

I have at least one more Maron sitting on my shelves, and I’m enthusiastic about trying her Deborah Knott series. I’d appreciate your recommendations for other Maron books to try. Happy reading to you this new year!

fugitive colors