The first six have been reissued (with fine cover designs by Gregg Kulick) by the aficionados of crime fiction at Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Press. This imprint also publishes Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Chester Himes, James M. Cain, Ross Macdonald, James Ellroy and Jim Thompson so you know where to go.
These ten Martin Beck novels were influenced by Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series which started in 1956 – nine years before the first Beck Mystery. In MURDER AT THE SAVOY, the murderer mentions reading McBain’s TILL DEATH, so the authors were aware of McBain and acknowledging his role. The Beck Mysteries went deeper than the early McBain books through Beck’s greater interaction with the ensemble of police colleagues, through delineating Beck’s inner life and struggles in a more obvious and human way and through explicit social commentary (often scathing).
The detailed plots and meticulous unravelling of clues meshed very well with the socialist dialectic of the Marxist authors and the narrative and integrity of the writing did not suffer. For example, in THE FIRE ENGINE THAT DISAPPEARED, in reference to minor disturbances the previous summer of 1968:
“Instead they were handled by people who thought that Rhodesia was somewhere near Tasmania and that it is illegal to burn the American flag, but positively praiseworthy to blow your nose on the Vietnamese. These people thought that water cannons, rubber billy clubs and slobbering German shepherd dogs were superior aids when it came to creating contact with human beings …”The story never suffers from these polemics and even in MURDER AT THE SAVOY, which castigates big business, corruption and its fallout among ordinary citizens, the book is one of the most accomplished in the series - taut, rigorous and true.
Henning Mankell, another Swede, is the natural inheritor of Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s tradition. Mankell’s Inspector Wallander, an existential warrior battling crime and his own melancholia, closely resembles Beck.
The Beck series used the Swedish weather to great effect - grey skies, rain, mist, sleet, snow, wind and hailstones and at the other extreme the scorching summers as a backdrop to the stories. The drab edifices of Stockholm’s public housing, the anonymous urban landscape, the ennui of the population and public servants, and the political and corporate corruption, is the milieu where Beck operates.
The ten books are collectively known as The Story of Crime, comprising 300 chapters (30 chapters per book). They are all written with aplomb and honesty and set the standard for all police procedurals that followed. – Seamus Scanlon