Saturday, March 5, 2011

Murder at the Savoy, by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
originally published as Polis, Polis, Potatismos!, 1970
translation by Amy and Ken Knoespel

In the city of Malmo, which lies just across the ocean from the coast of Denmark, a group of people are having dinner together at the Savoy hotel.  A man enters the dining room and shoots one of them, a wealthy industrialist who promptly falls into a plate of mashed potatoes that surround a fish casserole. The shooter leaves through a window and he's gone. With very little clues as to the killer's identity, the police begin to focus on the dead man, Victor Palmgren, and his associates. Things become rather complicated when Martin Beck, Chief Inspector of the National Homicide Squad is told to move quickly on the case and get it closed, because Palmgren has been involved in some shady transactions abroad which might cause some embarrassment to some in the upper echelons of Swedish politics.

Murder at the Savoy is the sixth book and doesn't have the intensity of some of its predecessors in the series, but it's still a great read.  As always, Wahloo and Sjowall take their opportunity to voice their opinions about the social problems in Sweden of the time.  This time, though, the authors also ask their readers to consider the very nature of crime itself, and the question of justice, for that matter.  While most people consider crime to be under the purview of the police and the legal system, there are those for whom there is no recourse, especially when one is at the mercy of the whims of the rich and famous.  This is one of those issues that is never pertinent only to a time or a place -- it is an ongoing reality of life. This is one of the characteristics of the series as a whole -- the books may have been written decades ago, but the authors' observations remain appropriate in the present time.  As with the other books, there are memorable moments of humor during a serious investigation, and the characters continue to grow and change, acting very human all of the time. And another hallmark of this series continues here: the crime, the investigation, the characters' lives and the social commentary all occur succinctly within a relatively short amount of space with no superfluous distractions. 

I am loving this series and have the final four stacked up, ready to read. I can't think of another author (or pair of authors) who have done what Wahloo and Sjowall have accomplished here in the realm of crime fiction. Just because these books were written some time ago, they're not antiquated: they've still got a lot to offer readers who are either just entering the genre or those who've been in it a while and have only focused on current offerings.  Again, you can read this as a standalone, but to get the most out of the series, I would suggest starting with the first book, Roseanna.

fiction from Sweden

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