Tuesday, April 15, 2008

book review - The Man on the Balcony


The first book in the ten title series of police procedural thrillers put together by husband and wife writing team Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo was something so different that it really stuck in the memory.

Sadly this book, the third in the series of ten books following the career of policeman Martin Beck, was not quite as good. Partly of course it is because the shock of the style has worn off. But there is a flaw with the story that it is quite hard to put to one side.

A series of child murders in parks coincide with park muggings. It becomes imperative to find the mugger and get him to share the information he knows, including a description of the killer. That part makes sense. It even makes sense to a degree when Beck interviews a three-year-old boy who met the killer before he dragged off one of his sister’s friends and murdered her.

But where the problems start is the leaps that Beck makes to tie together a phone call at the start of the story from a woman complaining about a man standing out on his balcony all day and night staring at children playing and the idea that he might be the killer. The descriptions are the same and that is enough for the policeman but then finding the balcony is like searching for a needle in a haystack.

The problems is that you know that they are going to find that needle because there are no other leads on the table. The other problem is that for some reason everyone in the police station where Beck works is ill or grumpy. It adds to the colour but a whole book of people being rude to each other does get a bit wearing.

What manages to save the book from utter disappointment is the pace that kicks in as they start to get close to solving the crime. Plus there is a twist at the end that makes it clear Beck is human and that chance rather than hunches and good police work can sometimes be the keys to solving a crime.

Although not as good as Roseanna I would read the fourth in the series and follow it through because even when things seem to be plodding and the plot might take an unreasonable turn the writing here is fantastic. What you notice is the mixture of different viewpoints with the moment when a hardened policeman has to tell a woman her daughter has died being handled so sensitively.

On to the next one and hoping for something better.

Version read – Harper perennial paperback

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