Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Reflections on the Beck series

When you come across an author you really like there is always that dilemma that as you plough through their catalogue and get closer to the end of their output you know that the moment when you finish is getting nearer.

So it was perhaps for that reason that completing the tenth and final Martin Beck crime story from husband and wife team Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo took a bit longer to get to than I planned.

Having completed it and as a result finished the Beck books I'd like to just make a few comments about the experience.

Firstly, this was my first introduction to Swedish crime writing, which is so much in vogue now but was virgin territory when these books were written back in the 1970s. As a result through the pages of these books I was introduced to a country that was cold most of the time, windswept and had the same problems you find anywhere else with drugs and murder occupying the police.

But these books also provided a political and social context as a backdrop to their stories so the changing nature of the police, becoming armed and more authoritarian, is also a feature along with references to anti-Vietnam war protests and some of the demands for the legalisation of drugs.

Throughout the series of books a small team of police officers that operate around the central character of Martin Beck are introduced and one of these Kollberg, a good policeman, goes as far as to leave the force because he cannot live with the changes that are happening to the police.

Secondly, the style of the books introduces a reader into a world where crimes can take months and years to solve and often it is a bit of luck that helps solve them rather than the great ability of a master detective. The first book Roseanna had just one such case that took the police months to solve.

Given that the action can be slow to come to a head you could be forgiven for wondering why you stick with it. The answer is a mixture of great characteisation, you want to know more about Beck and his colleagues, and an ability to pull out some of the detail from the background into the foreground.

Although these days it's all about girls and dragon tatoos and snowmen the Beck books are some of the orignials and for those who enjoy a good crime read and police procedural it's hard to beat these books. I'm sad to have finished them but very grateful that I came across them.

No comments: