The Locked Room by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo: A review

The Locked Room (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)The Locked Room by Maj Sjöwall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Each of these reissues of the 1960s-70s Swedish crime series by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo has an introduction by a current-day crime fiction writer. This eighth in the ten-part series is introduced by Michael Connelly. In his opening paragraph, he assures readers that, if they are about to "hop aboard" and read this book, they are in for a great ride. He did not lie. This is my favorite Martin Beck book so far.

It has all the elements that I find so interesting about the series. Sjowall and Wahloo use the vehicle of the detective novel to examine Swedish society, and, in a larger context, Western society, of the late twentieth century. They do it with the clear-eyed irony that such an endeavor demands and they achieve their goal with a wry humor. These mysteries are always meticulously plotted and, while they examine how crime happens, they also manage to explore how a city, a country, or a society can be complicit in those crimes.

The writers show the police at their incompetent worst and yet they manage to also convey the doggedness with which these ordinary men - and they are almost all men - pursue the solving of crimes. Even when they quite literally don't have a clue, they keep pushing, probing, poking through the detritus left by criminals until they come up with some sort of a solution. Even if, as in this case, it may not be the correct solution.

The start of this tale is all about a bank robbery. Stockholm is experiencing a rash of bank robberies in 1972, and so, in late June, when this one takes place, it seems a part of this epidemic, possibly planned and committed by the same "gang." One thing is different. In this case, one of the bank's customers tried to be a hero and accosted the robber - who promptly shot and killed him.

Meanwhile, we learn that Martin Beck, who was shot and seriously wounded at the end of the last book, is just about to return to work after many months of recovery. When he gets back on the job, he is assigned a locked room mystery.

A corpse was found in an apartment in a room that had all windows and doors locked from the inside. The corpse had lain there for a couple of months before being discovered. When it finally was examined, it was discovered that it had been shot, but there was no weapon in the room. It is a mystery that will require all of Martin Beck's famous intuition, as well as his dogged persistence, to solve.

The main priority of the Stockholm police, however, is solving the rash of bank robberies. In pursuit of that goal, the special team assigned mounts an operation which turns into a scene straight out of one of Peter Sellers' old Inspector Clouseau movies. It is laugh-out-loud, rolling-on-the-floor funny and still gives me chuckles every time I think of it.        

In the beginning, it seems that the "locked room" corpse and the bank robberies have no links, but, as Martin Beck, in his solo investigation, runs down every lead, it finally becomes apparent that there is a point where the two cases overlap. Finding the evidence to prove it may be a different matter.

This story has great momentum. There is never a dull moment or a false step by the writers. The action never lags, and it makes the reader look forward with keen anticipation to the next entry in the series, while at the same time regretting that there are only two left. It really is that good.

Yes, definitely my favorite so far.

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