Sunday, May 20, 2018

Roseanna (1965)

According to the introduction by Henning Mankell for the 2006 reprint of the first novel in the Martin Beck police procedural series The Story of Crime, authors Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö were heavily influenced by Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels. I actually hadn't known that when I set out to read through them again, beyond a general understanding that McBain is a milestone figure in the subgenre, perhaps even second only to Jack Webb. The Martin Beck novels—there are only 10, compared to 55 87th Precinct books—are better in nearly every way, more literate, more circumspect, and more carefully written (which is obvious even in translation from Swedish). More classy, as McBain might say. Or maybe that's the European glow to an American rube such as myself, but let me point out some facts about Sjöwall and Wahlöö. They were a couple during the collaboration, which ended with Wahlöö's death in 1975, and they also wrote and published separately. Wahlöö was a journalist with a bent toward social justice. Sjöwall was a poet and translator. These elements were alchemically blended to produce a foundation for what is called "Nordic noir," a kind of procedural tradition veering decidedly toward the dark, which includes Mankell, Stieg Larsson, and a raft of other books and movies too. This first novel, Roseanna, is very basic police procedural fundamentals, as if establishing bona fides. The nude body of a dead young woman is dredged from a Swedish resort lake. She hasn't been dead long, but no one matching her description has been reported missing. Investigating police detective Martin Beck and his colleagues have almost nothing to go on. They must put together the case painstakingly, one minuscule piece at a time. They use police routines, to quote Ed McBain, "based on established investigative technique." Certain familiar elements of those routines are carefully injected: the casual brutality of crime, detectives who become personally invested in solving crimes, the ways resources are deployed to track down detail. Written in the '60s, at the dawn of the imperial age of serial killers in pop culture, it's either well-researched on the behavior of serial killers or has spectacularly good instincts. It doesn't try to do any more than it has to. It's compact and dense with a momentum all its own. Don't hesitate. Start here.

In case it's not at the library.

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