“They found the corpse on the eighth of July just after three o’clock in the afternoon.”
The year is 1965. Mary Quant invents the Mini Skirt. The hills are alive with “The Sound of Music.” The Vietnam War rages on. Newborn J. K. Rowling cries in her crib like any other Muggle baby. Stieg Larsson, age 11 and dreaming of becoming a Sci-Fi writer, is living in a small village in northern Sweden with his grandparents, a location that would become the setting for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Future Swedish mystery master Henning Mankell, age 17, is so captivated by the words above and all that followed that he reads the book for a second time.
The book is Roseanna, the first in a ten-book series of mystery novels written by husband and wife team Maj Sjӧvall and Per Wahlӧӧ, and featuring police investigator Martin Beck. Unlike most mysteries of the day, which focused on solving an elaborate mystery, complete with a eureka moment, Roseanna showed how crimes were actually solved, with the slow, deliberate accretion of facts over months and years, the tedious making of lists and knocking on doors, the seemingly endless and often fruitless interviews of witnesses and suspects and “persons of interest.”
Maj and Per, who were said to write alternate chapters in each book, set these crimes in the real world, with real-world events serving as backdrop, and used the books as a way to offer social commentary—their socialist viewpoint—on Swedish society, “the ideologically pauperized and morally debatable so-called welfare state of the bourgeois type,” according to Per. Their message was lost on me, but the exotic settings and social commentary, not to mention vivid, engaging characters that changed and evolved as the series unfolded, did make for a rich reading experience.
My future wife, Ruth, thrust Roseanna into my hands in 1975 with the admonition, “Read this if you want to understand why I read mysteries instead of those artsy-fartsy books you’re so fond of.” By then, all ten of these “police procedurals” were available, so before I reread Roseanna, I raced through the other nine, cursing the fact that the tenth book was the last book, just as I cursed a few days ago when I learned on page 481 of Henning Mankell’s The Troubled Man that his Kurt Wallander series was over: “After that there is nothing more. The story of Kurt Wallander is finished, once and for all.”
I beg to differ. So long as there are readers who enjoy a good mystery, Martin Beck and Kurt Wallander will never be finished.