One of the biggest problems about writing separate reviews about a whole series of books is that you increasingly run out of original things to say, unless you arte prepared to resort bto simply recounting the plots of the different books – which has never been the purpose of this blog. For that you can just as easily read the publisher’s synopsis on Amazon. Additionally, the whole idea of ‘the series’ is particularly important to the Martin Beck books because, although the series consists of ten separate novels (of which The Fire Engine That Disappeared is the fifth), they insisted that the ten novels together constituted a single, larger novel that created a picture of Swedish society, as seen through the prism of the detective novel. That said, and having no wish to repeat myself, this and the next two reviews to appear on this blog will be relatively short.
The Fire Engine That Disappeared begins with an arson attack and a real fire engine (or rather a fire engine that does not turn up, but it is a child’s toy fire engine that inexplicably gets lost that provides a key to solving the mystery and gives the book its title – typical of the kind of games played so mischievoulsy by Sjowall and Wahloo. It is another story of the underbelly of Stockholm society and, like the other novels in the series, Martin Beck does not always appear to be the central character in the narrative. Here it is the unpopular, boorish and violent Gunvald Larsson who plays as key a role as anybody. These are not books about individual heroes but about the fruits of collective hard work.
In his introduction Colin Dexter, who confesses to not having read a Martin Beck novel before, harks back to a time when authors (and readers) of detective novels did not require a degree in forensics and anatomy. He also suggests that “the best criterion of a good read is to wish that it had gone on a bit longer. I felt that here.” I couldn’t agree more.