Monday, December 24, 2007

Murder at the Savoy: Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

It has been more than a year since I read (and of course reviewed) The Locked Room by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. And while the template is the same, the police procedural riveting as ever, and the humour just as pithy and black, there are a couple of aspects in Savoy that are a touch atypical.

The first is the rather dramatic, set-piece start, quite unlike the beginnings of the other books in the series. A businessman shot publicly in a prominent hotel is unusual for this author-couple, known for their penchant for non-drama. The second is the policemen wondering about the motive for the crime right at the beginning – it seemed a bit artificial that should start talking about it even before getting the basics facts in. But once Martin Beck gets in, it’s back to business as usual, happily (or grimly, as it were). In the authors’ own words,

Whereas everything happened on Monday and something on Tuesday, nothing at all happened on Wednesday. Nothing that furthered the investigation, anyway.

Murder at the Savoy is a typically gripping police procedural thriller from the dependent and consistent Swedish couple – a case of a sudden murder of a prominent not-so-popular industrialist being cracked by the police (especially Martin Beck) in his thorough, pedestrian, risk-averse manner. A typical dramatic start, a detailed investigation and a logical and unsurprising denouement.

The Sjöwall / Wahlöö staples are present in good measure – the social commentary; the rant at the Swedish political system; humour in the form of the dig at the secret police and the parody of the plainclothesman; a support cast that’s not always supportive; and a typically bleak summary, as felt by Martin Beck. (Caution: plot spoilers here; skip this excerpt if you plan to read the book.)

Moreover, a case has been wound up.

He should have felt good, but it didn’t seem that way.

Viktor Palmgren was dead.

Gone forever and missed by no one, save for a handful of international swindlers and representatives of suspect regimes in countries far away. They would soon learn to do business with Mats Linder instead, and so things would be, to all intents and purposes, unchanged.

Charlotte Palmgren was now very rich and practically independent, and as far as one could see, Linder and Hoff-Jensen had a brilliant future in store.

Hampus Broberg would probably be able to avoid another arrest, and a staff of well-paid lawyers would show that he hadn’t misappropriated or tried to smuggle stocks out of the country or done anything else illegal. His wife and daughter were already in safety in Switzerland or Liechtenstein with fat bank accounts at their disposal. Helena Hansson would probably receive some sort of sentence, but certainly not so severe that she couldn’t set herself up in her former profession within the fairly near future.

There remained the shipyard caretaker, who in the course of time would be tried for second-degree, maybe first-degree murder, and then have to rot away the best years of his life in a prison cell.

Chief Inspector Martin Beck didn’t feel good at all.

When I turned over the last page of the book, I felt a little disappointed. Savoy is not the best book from the Sjöwall / Wahlöö duo. Was it the dramatic and forced opening? Was it that there was no great insight unearthed by the police? Was the perpetrator too normal to be guilty? Was it that the narrative had too many asides? (The Keystone Kops angle [not the original, let me hasten to add], I must confess, appeared to be interesting from a humour perspective, but it was all-too-brief a cameo.) Or are my expectations from Sjöwall and Wahlöö that much higher, considering The Locked Room and The Laughing Policeman, among others?

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