Roseanna by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

The fourth word in Roseanna by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo is “corpse.”

There will be no beating around the bush in this mystery novel.  A victim, a detective and a suspect.  What more do you need?  No quirky characters.  No digressions about dog show politics or the history of Irish pub goers.  Just a crime and a detective trying to solve it.  If you want to learn a how to prepare southern cuisine, buy a cookbook. The subject here is murder.

Which is not to claim that Roseanna doesn’t have anything relevant to say about the culture that produced it.  The first of the ten volume Martin Beck mysteries, Roseanna, like all good detective stories, speaks to the fears and frustrations of it’s age.  The title character is the victim, a young single woman with an active sex life.  She went looking for Mr. Goodbar ten years before Diane Keaton did, but she came to the same end.

Detective Martin Beck arrives on the scene when her body is discovered some three months after she was killed.  The case is so cold no one expects anything to come of it–it’s clear his superiors won’t hold it against him if this one is never solved.  But Beck does not give up.  Instead, he digs, and digs until he identifies the body as an American tourist who went missing while travelling through Sweden by boat.

Ship’s pervade the novel.  During his investigation, Beck learns the habits and customs of boat travel through Sweden, its system of locks and the practice of taking on deck passengers who ride the ships like buses from one lock to another.  The few brief scenes of Beck at home describe him as an unhappily married man who spends his off hours building model ships instead of interacting with his family.  Ships provide a means of escape for Beck, for Roseanna the American tourist and for the suspected killer who rides them throughout Sweden when on vacation.

In spite of all the talk of ships in Roseanna and in spite of a victim found floating face up in a swamp, one review I read in preparation for this post described the book in a single word, ‘dry.’  I wondered if this reviewer had read much in the way of police procedurals.  Their dryness is the calling card.  Detective Martin Beck describes himself:

“Remember, that you have three of the most important virtues a policeman can have,” he thought. “You are stubborn and logical, and completely calm. You don’t allow yourself to lose your composure and you act only professionally on a case, whatever it is. Words like repulsive, horrible, and bestial belong in the newspapers not in your thinking. A murderer is a regular human being, only more unfortunate and maladjusted.”

I suppose that is a bit ‘dry.’  It’s also perfect reading for a rainy day.


This review first ran on my old blog, Ready When You Are, C.B., back in 2011.  I still like it.

One thought on “Roseanna by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

  1. I love your reviews and would rather read one of them over 20 classic novels!!!!

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