Murder at the Savoy

And so into the second half of the Martin Beck series with No. 6, Murder at the Savoy. Again this is a deeply political book, telling the story of a rich industrialist who gets murdered whilst hosting an expensive dinner for his sycophantic entourage at the Savoy Hotel. As the investigation unravels the history of the industrialists appalling and arrogant behaviour, the reader, along with Martin Beck, begins to feel sympathy for the killer, rather than the victim. And in doing so, Sjowall and Wahloo ask us to question the very nature of crime itself. It reminded me of the line in Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, which asks who is the greater criminal, the bank robber or the banker? I forget the exact quotation, but it seems particularly pertinent for our times. In his introduction critic Michael Carlson also reminds us of that the original title of the book in Swedish is Polis, polis, potatismos (literally, police, police, mashed potato), a play on the slogan chanted at police by young revolutionaries in the sixties, ‘polis, polis, potatisgris’, translated as ‘police, police, potato pig’. In Sweden, as elsewhere, ‘pig’ is used as a derogatory term for the police, especially by young activists. If you’re wondering about the relevance of the mashed potato, it is a plate of it that the dying industrialist collapses into after he has been shot. As with all the books in this series, the social comment and the serious and tragic subject matter is always balanced with moments of deliciously low comedy.

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