Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Review of Murder at the Savoy by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (1970, Harper)

Viktor Palmgren, a rich industrialist, is having dinner with a small group of colleagues and their partners at the Savoy Hotel in Malmo when a man enters the restaurant, shoots him in the head, climbs out of a window, and disappears. The police are slow to react and by the time they arrive the man is long gone. Given Palmgren’s standing and overseas connections, political pressure is applied to the police for a quick resolution. With no result in sight, the national police chief turns to Martin Beck, head of the homicide division in Stockholm. Beck heads to Malmo, but there are few leads to follow. With little other option he starts to place pressure on Palmgren’s dinner guests in the hope that they can remember anything that might help, or better still make themselves into a viable suspect.

Murder at the Savoy is the sixth book in the Martin Beck series set in Sweden in the 1960s/70s. In this outing Beck is called in to help investigate the assassination of a high profile industrialist, killed while he is eating dinner at the Savoy Hotel in Malmo. The industrialist has no shortage of potential enemies given his various business enterprises and ruthless pursuit of profit. However, Beck and his colleagues have few clues to pursue and struggle to make headway. The attraction of the Beck series is its subtle social commentary on the Sweden’s social project and the realism of the characters and procedural elements. Beck and his colleagues are very ordinary people, and there is no melodrama, no plot devices, and no larger-than-life characters to ‘lift’ the story or add tension. Instead, the tales are told in an under-stated way focusing on how the police go about their business (and make mistakes, sometimes get lucky), the interactions between them, and how the crime sits in the context of Swedish society. This gives the story a humdrum, everyday feel, and this I think is the beauty of the series. The resolution to this outing is nicely satisfying, in the main because it is so straightforward, unadorned and arrived at via persistence, luck and muddling through.

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