The Assignment

Per Wahloo’s The Assignment should be required reading for anyone trying to expand their company to another. In The Assignment, Manuel Ortega, a government official, takes over as Provincial Resident of some unknown South American country after his predecessor is openly assassinated. In trying to discover this new land filled with government officials and wealth, he is surrounded by unknown, indigenous workers who can barely live. The warfare between the haves and the have-nots has been an on going battle to get what little resources out of the ground while they can. The new Provincial Resident’s role is not very clear and his new office is empty of paperwork or any instructions on what to do.

His new assistant and part-time lover, Danica Rodriguez, begins to open Manuel’s eyes to the tortuous conditions that exist for the original occupants of this unknown land. When a reservoir is emptied due to insurgency, water, a precious resource in this hot climate, is trucked in, from who knows where, and somehow priority is given to the lawns of the wealthily versus the mouths of the poor.

When Manuel finds a Proclamation from his predecessor, he finds the strength to stand up for humanity. One line reads, “there has arisen a new concept of the citizen as an individual (human being). This point of view has not been applied in our province.” And I think so many times when capitalism escapes our first world boundaries, corporations, and even the individual, seems to forget that the people working in a far off land, making a measly salary, are indeed human beings. Worthy of thoughts and rights, just as we are. To think this was written in the 1960’s, well after what I consider to be a colonial period of time, and yet 50 years later we hear about factories collapsing and killing hundreds of workers. Or the work schedule of someone who built my computer causing such extreme stress that suicide is a common occurrence in the dorm like structures that house the workers for the convenience of the company and the inconvenience of family.

This was a fantastic politically charged novel. I wasn’t expecting something so intense from the co-author of the Martin Beck series, which I love. The Martin Beck series dives into social difficulties in Sweden and closer to home, while in The Assignment breaks through a specific society and drives home the evils of colonialism. Great read!

Read May 2014

The Abominable Man

The Abominable Man by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo is the 7th novel in the Martin Beck series. Sjowall and Wahloo have a fantastic grip on the difficulties facing modern day police officers that are trying to work in a corrupt system. Former Chief Inspector Nyman is murdered and throughout the investigation, the truth of his brutality confronts the investigating officers.

As Nyman lay dying in his hospital bed, a sadistic madman breaks in and kills him with a bayonet. Beck and his officers discover that throughout the years Nyman and his men earned numerous complaints of police brutality against innocent men and women with little to no repercussions. The police always backed their own, and Nyman went unscathed. The list of complaints leads the investigation to a man with a terrible grievance against Nyman and many other police officers, including Martin Beck.

Sjowall and Wahloo maneuver this story and masterfully tell what can happen when you cannot trust the police who should be there for your protection. How the brotherhood of police needed to be disbanded to protect those from the sadistic nature of police officers gone bad. Even our beloved Martin Beck fell prey to the policeman’s allegiance in the past and must suffer his own consequences.

I love the Martin Beck stories because its told from the minds of a cerebral officer who takes his time to trust his instincts and doesn’t offer endless violent scenes to tempt the reader. He’s a great investigator and Sjowall and Wahloo tell his story clearly.

Read November 2013

The Fire Engine that Disappeared

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