1960s Crime

Roseanna by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

Roseanna (The Martin Beck series)Translated from the Swedish by Lois Roth

Five words from the blurb: detective, Sweden, crime, strangled, boat

Martin Beck is commonly described as one of the best fictional detectives ever created and this series always tops crime fiction “must-read” lists. Roseanna is the first of ten books and I’ve been wanting to try it for a long time. I’m pleased I’ve finally read this crime classic and look forward to enjoying the rest of the series. 

The plot was quite simple, revolving around the discovery of a dead woman in a lake. The identity of her killer is quickly narrowed down to one of the 85 people on board a passenger ferry. Martin Beck uses his slow, but thorough detective skills to locate the murderer in this easy to read, but gripping narrative.

Roseanna was written in the 1960s, a golden age for crime fiction. In our Internet age there is something charming about the lack of mobile phones and the fact that it takes two weeks for messages to travel from America to Sweden.  The writing also has a gentleness that means it isn’t disturbing, no matter how violent the crime. 

Unfortunately I was a little disappointed by the ending. Despite the initial slowness of the investigation, the resolution seemed to happen too easily. I wished that there had been several suspects so the reader had the opportunity to guess whodunnit.  Instead it just seemed like a charming introduction to Martin Beck – nothing really wrong with that, but not that exciting either:

When he smiled, you could see his healthy, white teeth. His dark hair was combed straight back from the even hairline and had not yet begun to gray. The look in his soft blue eyes was clear and calm. He was thin but not especially tall and somewhat round-shouldered. Some women would say he was good looking but most of them would see him as quite ordinary. He dressed in a way that would draw no attention. If anything, his clothes were a little too discreet.

I’ve heard that the real joy of this series is seeing how Beck (and Sweden) develop over time and so although this wasn’t completely satisfying I’m still keen to try the rest of the series.


Have you read this series?

Were you hooked from book one?

Which books in this series did you enjoy the most?



12 replies on “Roseanna by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo”

I’ve heard so much about this book and I think Annabel had reviewed it a couple of years ago. I think I have the 4th in the series but would really like to start with this one. It might be refreshing to read a crime novel that isn’t explicitly violent for a change!

I did read Roseanna two years ago (well remembered Sakura). I enjoyed it although it was a little slow, but I liked the real life approach Beck has to the policework. It’s an important series in world of police procedural novels as it set the benchmark, so I will carry on with them eventually (when I unearth them in the TBR that is).

OK you have me on the hook. I like settings in Norway, Sweden, Iceland. And that is true, murder mysteries can appeal for a variety of reasons, one of them being setting and the protagonist. I get kinda sick of series that do their best to shock and disgust, and try to outdo each other.

I too like the settings outside the US, but I am still partial to stories that I can relate to a little more. I recently read Blood Land by R. S. Guthrie, and it is set here in the states, but that for me made it easier to read as I didn’t have to study about the culture I guess. This one does look gripping though, I will add it to my list. I am reading another Guthrie book I found on his site as I enjoyed Blood Land!

Tania, I don’t think you’ll have problems relating to this one – there are no differences in culture that you need to understand. The only differences are the place names and the way communication has changed over time. I find it interesting to learn about different cultures/ways of thinking, but this could be a good introduction to books from other countries for you.

Jenners, Sort of. Unfortunately it didn’t make full use of that point and so the reader doesn’t get to guess from key suspects on the boat and instead is almost spoon fed the answer. Such a shame.

Stu, I’ve been looking for this series for a while too. They don’t seem to come up in 2nd hand shops very often (a sign of how good they are?!) I found book 1 in my library. Perhaps yours will have a copy too?

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