Murder at the Savoy, by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo


The sixth book in the Martin Beck series follows the same lean, sardonic and insightful formula as the previous volumes. It is summer, and most of the events take place in Malmo, the coastal town which is the home turf of DI Per Mansson, who has collaborated with Martin Beck in previous investigations. He's assisted by the young, ambitious Benny Skacke, newly transferred to the region after his disastrous intervention at the end of THE FIRE ENGINE THAT DISAPPEARED.

A business dinner at the Savoy Hotel ends in drama when the host, industrialist Viktor Palmgren, is shot by a man who walks in to the dining room, performs the deed, then calmly escapes through an open window and rides off on a bicycle. The case would have been open and shut but for the fact that the two policemen who are sent to intercept the most probable suspect are the disaster-prone Kvant and Kristiansson, the laziest men on the force. They fail to apprehend the suspect in true hilarious fashion (the fact that the Swedish title of the book is literally translated as "Police, Police, Potato Pig", according to the delightfully informative introduction by Michael Carson, gives a clue as to what intercepted them).

Martin Beck is told to drop his holiday plans and go to Malmo to help Mansson. Political elements are involved, causing Beck's superiors to send in the security services also, in an uncomfortable parallel investigation. Most of Beck's regular associates are on holiday, but there are some good set-pieces in Stockholm as the dead man's business dealings are untangled, involving the old-fashioned, heavy cop Gunvald Larsson, as well as an episode with Lennart Kollberg and Asa Torell, the woman who has joined the police after her boyfriend was killed in THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN.

Eventually, a lucky discovery breaks the case. The careful investigative work into Palmgren's sleazy associates allows Beck and colleagues to rapidly identify the culprit. During the book, however, we have come to despise Palmgren's circle and its role in the corruption and exploitation rife in "modern" Sweden (the book was written in 1970), and by the time the murderer is identified, we sympathise with him far more than with his victim. MURDER AT THE SAVOY is well up to the standards of this excellent series, and praise does not come much higher than that.

First published at Euro Crime, December 2008.

This entry was posted in Books, Classic, Crime fiction, Eurocrime, Europe, Police procedural, Series, Sweden and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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