Friday, August 17, 2012

Review of The Man on the Balcony by Majs Sjowall and Per Wahloo (1967, translated 1968)

The summer of 1967 and a mugger and a child killer are stalking the parks of Stockholm.  The jaded and tired Detective Inspector Martin Beck and his colleagues are under pressure to catch the killer before he strikes again.  However, there’s precious little evidence to go on.  Eventually they find two witnesses, the mugger who is given up by a jilted girlfriend and a three year old boy who’d been playing with a small girl when she was snatched.  One is reluctant to talk, the other can barely put a sentence together.  As the summer unfolds, the number of victims grows and the public pressure rises, and the police hope for a break that will identify the perpetrator. 

The Man on the Balcony is the third instalment of the Martin Beck series of police procedurals written by the husband and wife team of Sjowall and Wahloo between 1965-75.  The books are characterised by an understated social realism.  Beck and his colleagues are normal, everyday people with differing egos, foibles, frailties, talents and opinions, trying to balance work with their home lives.  The investigation unfolds in fits and starts, with painstaking footwork, frustrating interviews, and little doses of luck.  There’s little machismo, no maverick geniuses and little in the way of heroics - just the police getting on and doing their jobs.  In this book, Sjowall and Wahloo start to broaden out the focus from Beck to introduce more of the team and the characterisation is keenly observed.  The plot is fairly standard police procedural fare and hinges on a couple of coincidences, but what makes the story work is the realism and its telling.  There’s a lovely cadence to the storytelling, a kind of gentle, instant rhythm.  Overall, a solid addition to the series.


Anonymous said...

Rob - Oh, I am glad you liked this one. I have to admit that I'm a fan of this series, so I'm quite biased. It's good to know this one worked for you.

Sanda Ionescu said...

This is one of my favourite in the series, perhaps because the subject matter is quite horrific, yet it is treated in a non-sensationalist way. (Just compare with the way child killers are described in current crime fiction.)