A team of Swedish police detectives are trying to solve a murder. It takes months. They start with no clues. They wait for a break in the case. They stare out the window at the rain. They play endless games of chess. They walk the streets of Stockholm after dark, looking up at people in lit windows. They drink coffee.
Dull reading? Not for a second. The story moves swiftly along, especially in the many long passages of dialogue. The economy of the prose is a wonder. Instead of breakneck action, the novel offers the great pleasure of watching professionals at work, really at work, in their offices, on the phone, in the interview room.
Roseanna is the first in a series of 10 crime novels by the husband-and-wife team of Sjöwall and Wahlöö. Originally published between 1965 and 1975 (the year of Wahlöö’s death), they have now been reissued by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard. The fact that they are back in print has everything to do with the current craze for Nordic crime fiction, sometimes dubbed “Scandinavian Noir.” Sjöwall and Wahlöö invented this genre, and they are its master artists. In April 2008, the Times of London ranked them 15th on their list of the top 50 crime writers (though if there were a competition for Most Umlauts in an Author’s Name, they would surely take first place).
The central character in the series is Martin Beck, First Detective Inspector with the National Police. He is an ordinary man with one exceptional quality: his skill in questioning witnesses and suspects and knowing when they are lying. But Beck is no lone sleuth. He and his colleagues form an ensemble cast whose daily routines and minor idiosyncrasies are detailed with dry humor. Here, they are searching for the killer of an unidentified woman whose body was dredged from a lake. What they gradually learn about her and how she lived her life makes them ever more determined to arrest her murderer, no matter how long it takes.
The novel is strongly grounded in its Swedish settings, so much so that I recommend using Google Earth as a companion to your reading. Follow the detectives as they stake out a house on Runeberg Street or tail a suspect down Småland Street, keeping in mind that Sweden, and the world, have changed since the book was written some 45 years ago.
Check the WRL catalog for Roseanna