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The Man Who Went Up in Smoke (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard) - Maj Sjöwall;Per Wahlöö

”Martin Beck, the born detective and famous observer, constantly occupied making useless observations and storing them away for future use. Doesn’t even have bats in the belfry-they couldn’t get in for all the crap in the way.”

For those fans of Kurt Wallander there will be a deja vu moment when you start reading a Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo novel. Henning Mankell has admitted he was heavily influenced by this series. My relationship with Martin Beck is a little better than my relationship with Kurt Wallander. I often find myself, and Kenneth Branagh does an excellent job depicting Wallander, seeing myself grabbing Wallander/Branagh by the shoulders and giving him a good shake. The guy spends most of his time out past Mars somewhere. Wallander’s personal life and sometimes his professional life start to erode around him as he ponders a case or he sinks into a malaise of depression.

Martin Beck does not annoy me as much as Kurt Wallander. He does drift away spending most of his time solving a case in his head instead of wearing out shoe leather. For him life is just a series of cases even if he is wondering why the milkman set the bottle on the left side of the stoop instead of the right side on a particular morning. Because he notices EVERYTHING his mind is constantly churning through data trying to understand EVERYTHING.

Despite my issues or maybe because of my issues with Beck and Wallander I got to say I love these guys.

Like Wallander, Beck is having issues with his personal relationships. Surprise, surprise when he is with his wife and kids he is withdrawn even cold. He spends one day on vacation with his family when he gets the call from his boss that he is needed on a case involving Budapest. Now the superintendent wants Beck to investigate a missing celebrity journalist, but he says he can find someone else. Anybody who knows Beck can tell you what his decision will be. He puts up a fight for about two seconds and then he is on the next boat back to work.

The wife...well she is used to it.

Wallander generally ignores his colleagues even to the point of not answering pointed questions they may ask him. His fellow cops are immaterial to what is being weighed and considered in his own mind. Beck works better with others. The key word is better, not great. He is short with them especially over the phone. If someone talks too much he may end the conversation not by commenting on what they have told him, but simply saying ‘are you done now?’

I worked with a guy like that for several years. I had vivid dreams about taking him by the ears and slamming his head down on his desk. Never realized of course just a daydream to bring a brief smile to my lips and make him more tolerable. I, like most people, don’t like to be ignored or dismissed.

Even though Beck is having issues with his wife he doesn’t seem to be on the make. He may not have the proper feelings for his wife, but she is FUNCTIONAL. There is an interesting scene with a receptionist at the hotel in Budapest.

”She was very pretty, in a sweet, ordinary way. Rather small, well built, long fingers, pretty calves, fine ankles, a few dark hairs on her shins, long thighs under her skirt. No rings. He stared at her with his thoughts far away.”

He logs all the information and may even be slightly discombobulated by the fact that he finds her attractive. He stands there so long filing away all this new data that he makes her uncomfortable.

”He remained standing there, thinking about something. The girl blushed. She moved to the other end of the reception desk, adjusting her skirt and pulling at her bra and girdle. He could not understand why.”

Well Mr. Beck pretty young ladies start to feel like you are a perv when you stare TOO long.

As the plot begins to heat up he has an encounter with a temptress named Ari Boeck.

”Her hair was dark and short, and her features were strong. She had thick black eyebrows, a broad straight nose and full lips. Her teeth were good but somewhat uneven. Her mouth was half-open and the tip of her tongue was resting against her lower teeth, as if she was just about to say something. She was hardly taller than five foot one, but strongly and harmoniously built, with well-developed shoulders, broad hips and quite a narrow waist. Her legs were muscular and her feet short and broad, with straight toes. She had a very deep suntan and her skin appeared soft and elastic, especially across her diaphragm and stomach. Shave armpits, Large breasts and curved stomach with thick down that seemed very light against her tanned skin. Here and there, long and curly black hairs had made their way out from under the elastic at her loins. She might have been twenty-two or twenty-three years old, at the most. Not beautiful in the conventional sense of the word, but a highly functional specimen of the human race.”

There is that word functional again. Few of us could withstand that level of scrutiny without trying to move away from it. Ari has confidence enough that she takes her clothes off and attempts a seduction. Martin tells her to put her clothes back on and ushers her on her way.

Woman get rather annoyed under those circumstances.

Next thing Beck knows two guys are trying to kill him.

Now there are people that say this book moves slow and that nothing happens. It is my assumption that these are the same kind of people that can’t watch baseball, that find baseball boring. When I watch baseball I’m on the edge of my seat. The duel between pitchers and batters is a pressure cooker that builds with each new pitch. Will the batter win or will the pitcher win? Will the runner at first try to steal? The same thing is happening with the novel. Sjowall and Wahloo have the patience to let the plot advance at a trickle, clues so miniscule; and yet, so important are being logged in Beck’s head. I actually started to feel tension at the seemingly lack of progress in the case. Martin isn’t worried so I have to be worried for him. It is well...brilliant.

Don’t worry there is a bloody good twist at the end.

There has only been one translated book to ever win the Edgar Award for best novel and that book is The Laughing Policeman. It is the fourth book in the series. My first thought on learning this is...”they wrote a better one?” It is my understanding that the series will become more political with social commentary on Swedish society as the books advance. I have a feeling those concepts will be so cleverly weaved seamlessly into the plot that most readers may not even notice. I also read and reviewed the first book in the series Roseanna and here is the link to that review. Click for my Roseanna review This series is highly recommended!!!