Book Review : Roseanna (Martin Beck # 1)

Stieg Larrson’s Millennium Trilogy brought Scandinavian Crime Noir Fiction in international focus, with worldwide bestsellers and superhit movie adaptations making fans (like this guy here) search for more. The series that’s considered the pioneer in this field is Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo’s Martin Beck series of 10 novels, written in the 1960s-70s. Here we have the review of the first of them, published in 1965.

There is high praise for this series with some saying that even Henning Mankell’s excellent Kurt Wallander mystery series of the 90s, which was adapted for television by the BBC, owes a lot in its themes and style to Martin Beck. Here’s the link to an interview of Ms. Sjowall in The Guardian. Fun Fact : Sjowall and Wahloo used to write alternate chapters of the books. Oh, and Roseanna  was made into a film in Sweden in 1993.

A routine dredging operation in a lake turns up the naked corpse of a woman who was assaulted before being killed and dumped. Though the case is handled by the Motala police, Stockholm’s finest are also called in to help. Enter Detective Martin Beck and co. The identification of the woman turns out to be a huge task in itself and despite their best attempts, the police fail to make headway or find a single clue. Weeks turn to months as Beck, with his personal problems thrown in for good measure, tries to make sense of who and why exactly murdered the woman – Roseanna.

This book is a very good police procedural that might, just might, fail to excite you if you’re looking for slam-bang action. It is more like a slow-burn crime drama since for long stretches of the book, nothing interesting happens. The policemen try identifying the corpse but fail, try looking for clues but don’t find them and try searching for the killer but have no idea where to begin. Unlike your regular whodunnit, where the search for motives and culprit is relatively easier and, if I may say, a bit too easy to believe at times, we get a story that resembles the best of the mysteries, in that clues and breakthroughs are harder to come by in them.

Martin Beck has been developed well by the authors. His colleagues-cum-sidekicks — Ahlberg, Kollberg and Melander, less so. The tension is kept reasonably high throughout the book. The characters and their idiosyncrasies are believable too. My problem with it was a lack of a well-formed or leading female character. Other than the victim, who is obviously the focus here, there’s not one lady character that can be said to hog the mind space as a completely fleshed out one. Maybe the latter novels would have worked on this issue, I hope.

Verdict : Although not an instant classic, Roseanna is a must-read for fans and authors of crime noir fiction. It is a masterclass in developing the setting and feel for a crime novel, with a plot that draws you enough to keep you hooked and a climax that pays homage to the genre rules.

Genre : Crime, Noir, Mystery, Scandinavian Noir, Fiction

Rating : 3.5/5

Have you read Roseanna ? Maybe some other Scandinavian crime fiction? Share your views and thoughts on the book (and the review) in the comments section.

Thanks for reading.



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