The Fire Engine that Disappeared is the 5th Martin Beck novel by Sjowall and Wahloo. Written over 40 years ago, it retains its fresh outlook on life and crime while also having the nostalgic aspect of no cell phones, computers, etc. A trio of criminals die and it is up to the Stockholm police to piece together the widely arranged puzzle.
Sjowall and Wahloo show the slow pace of detective work. A lot of time passes from the first death until the police have a suspect. The slow meandering narrative that leads to the discovery of the murderer and motive is more realistic that the a shoot-em-up crime drama. In this novel, and the others in this series as well, it is the inaction of the police that lead to the greatest discoveries. Casual conversation triggers theories that are explored and it is grunt work that finally helps the police to track down the killer. While these novels are considered to be Martin Beck mysteries, it is truly a team effort to put the information together.
I discovered these novels after reading an article saying that Stieg Larsson was inspired by Sjowall and Wahloo’s use of culture and societal injustice in crime novels. From the beginning of this novel, we see how poorly the elderly are cared for in the state system, the contempt of certain officers for the women affected by the fire, and even in the way that the women use sex to exert their power. The sexual revolution gave some of the women freedom over their bodies, but mostly we see that the women are objects for the men to use as they see fit. Sjowall and Wahloo dont beat you over the head with it the way Larsson does in his novels, but its there, and the contempt is clear when Gunvald Larsson interviews one of the survivors while she’s naked in her bed.
I haven’t read all the other Martine Beck novels, but hope to soon and will continue to post!
Read February 2013