6 October 2011

Review: THE FIRE ENGINE THAT DISAPPEARED, Maj Sjowall, Per Wahloo

  • Format: Kindle Edition
    originally published in 1969
    translated from Swedish by Joan Tate
    Introduction by Colin Dexter
  • File Size: 553 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (August 20, 2009)
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002RI9EZ0
  • Source: I bought it
Also available from Audible.com

Product Description (Amazon)

The excellent fifth classic installment in the Martin Beck detective series from the 1960s – the novels that have inspired all crime fiction written ever since.
Widely recognised as the greatest masterpieces of crime fiction ever written, these are the original detective stories that pioneered the detective genre.

Gunvald Larsson sits carefully observing the dingy Stockholm apartment of a man under police surveillance. He looks at his watch: nine minutes past eleven in the evening. He yawns, slapping his arms to keep warm. At the same moment the house explodes, killing at least three people.
Chief Inspector Martin Beck and his men don't suspect arson or murder until they discover a peculiar circumstance and a link is established between the explosion and a suicide committed that same day, in which the dead man left a note consisting of just two words: Martin Beck.

Written in the 1960s, they are the work of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo – a husband and wife team from Sweden. The ten novels follow the fortunes of the detective Martin Beck, whose enigmatic, taciturn character has inspired countless other policemen in crime fiction. The novels can be read separately, but do follow a chronological order, so the reader can become familiar with the characters and develop a loyalty to the series. Each book has a new introduction in order to help bring these books to a new audience.

My take

THE FIRE ENGINE THAT DISAPPEARED is a perfect illustration of the concept that solving homicide cases is a mixture of accumulating evidence through painstaking and methodical sleuthing with flashes of intuition. In any investigative team the role of some will be the sleuthing, but it will often be the intuition that solves the case. The problem is that without the painstaking sleuthing little intuition is possible, and the accumulation of evidence is often necessary to both break the perpetrator and for for successful prosecution to take place. There is also often a problem in getting all the essential information into one brain. It takes all kinds to form a good team of detectives: plods, cynics, workaholics, as well as those who carefully compartmentalise their lives. Successful resolution requires testing theories, discarding those that don't fit, following the occasional red herring, and often, as in this case a long passage of time. The threads that make up a case often first present separately but as the plot develops they begin to converge.

One of the things that this novel clearly shows too is that each of the team has a private life. In THE FIRE ENGINE THAT DISAPPEARED Martin Beck's marriage appears to be on the point of collapse. This seems to be something so common to the modern detective that we almost take it for granted.

The Martin Beck series was written in the late 1960s and now five decades later we can still appreciate how cleverly they were constructed.

My rating: 4.5

 The Martin Beck series (courtesy Fantastic Fiction)
I have now read *
1. Roseanna (1965)
2. The Man Who Went Up in Smoke (1966) *
3. The Man on the Balcony (1967) *
4. The Laughing Policeman (1968) *
     aka Investigation of Murder
5. The Fire Engine That Disappeared (1969) *
6. Murder at the Savoy (1970)
7. The Abominable Man (1971)
8. The Locked Room (1972)
9. The Cop Killer (1974)
10. The Terrorists (1975) 

See also
THE MAN WHO WENT UP IN SMOKE

2 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Kerrie - An excellent review - Thanks! This series is one of the few that I would say are must-reads for crime fiction fans. You've explained beautifully the reason for that.

Bev Hankins said...

I'm going to have to come back and read this after I read my copy of it. I just picked this up at the Red Cross Book Sale that I went to over the weekend. It's amazing how a book you never heard of before suddenly starts popping up once you find it.

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