Roseanna by Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö

I spotted this set of books on the crime fiction shelves in the library and I had to look more closely. I was intrigued by the numbering, by the twin Swedish names, and I was sure that a couple of the titles rang bells.

I picked up this, the first book, and I discovered that a series of ten books exactly had been planned from the start, by a husband and wife team. That there had been awards,and film adaptations. That back in the early sixties these books changed the genre. They were the first real police procedurals, and they influenced later generations of Swedish crime writers – including Henning Mankell, who provides a fine introduction to this edition.

It’s a mystery with all of the elements built on classic lines.

The body of a young woman is recovered from a lake. She has been strangled.

Detective Inspector Martin Beck is called in, and he and his colleagues begin a painstaking investigation.

They must identify the dead woman, establish how and where she was killed, and then identify her killer.

It’s a slow process, but that works well and makes it easy to appreciate the details of the investigation and the interactions of the police team.

There’s some great dialogue, and some lovely flashes of wry workplace humour.

A picture begins to emerge, the result of steady work, solid deduction and reasoning, and intelligent insight into the psychology of the people involved.

The prose is spare and straightforward, and the mixture of traditional narrative and interview reports is very effective.

At first I was interested, but as the story progressed and the tension built I realised that I was hooked.

I deliberately haven’t said much about the plot. If you like mysteries this is a book you should consider reading, and reading knowing as little as possible.

I will say though that it is very well constructed and that it definitely rings true.

And that it’s interesting as a point in the history of detective fiction as well as being a good book in its own right.

And although the world has changed in the last forty years – modern communications would have had a huge impact on this investigation – this didn’t feel like a period piece. It felt like one of those books with a timeless quality, one of those books that I could simply accept on its own terms.

I’m looking forward to finding out how this series develops.

Translated by Lois Roth

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