Major Sjöwall and Per Wahloo, The Locked Room (Swedish, 1972)
The last time I read one of these Swedish mysteries was in 2019. In fact, it seems that I need to wait 2 years or more before getting to another one in this series, which is probably not the most efficient way to do it. But who says reading has to be efficient? This leisurely pace really suits me, as my memory gets a bit blurry, but I still feel as if I am meeting old friends again. And as always, I don’t read it in order, as I depend on which volume is available at my local library. This time, I was in the mood for a locked room mystery (having recently watched with the kids The Mystery of the Yellow Room, inspired by the Gaston Leroux novel) and the book was perfect.
If I try to be a bit more systematic with the poor detective inspector Beck who is nothing if not methodical, persistent and logical, I have to conclude that I have read more than half of the books in the series, beginning by Roseanna (1965) and The Man who went up in smoke (1966) read in 2010 (back when I still read books in order, or maybe it was sheer luck), then in 2013 I moved to #4: The Laughing Policeman (1968). Then 4 more years passed before I started again, this time with Cop Killer (1974), which is the penultimate one. Then in 2019 I moved back to the #5 The Fire Engine that Disappeared (1969). And now The Locked room (1972) which is #8.
Have I ruined any pretense of being orderly? Is it enough to make your head spin? I’m only missing #3 (because there’s a child killer), #6 and #7 and #10. Mmmh… Which means that I probably shouldn’t count on luck only to help me find the ones I haven’t read yet.
The best thing about this book is that it made me laugh out loud. Yes! (even in Covid year!) I had called these detective stories gloomy, terse, depressing and painstaking. I remembered I loved them, but I didn’t remember how much fun they really were. In this book, the Swedish police force is mobilized against a series of bank robberies. As always with Sjöwall and Wahlöö, there is always a strong social(ist) commentary that condemns the anti-democratic tendencies of the police and how desperate the social and political situation is. But at the same time, those policemen are real clowns! They are both full of themselves and stupid, a combination that ensures that they are always too slow to catch the robbers. There’s a scene of pure slapsticks where a whole policemen squad ends up injured and almost dead in an empty flat, by a combination of ineptitude and bad luck.
On the other hand, Martin Beck is patient and perceptive. He has survived an almost fatal injury (which I don’t know much about as I haven’t read the previous book), and as he’s returning to his job, he’s given an obscure case to get back on his feet. An old man found dead, shot by a gun, in a locked flat, with doors and windows all closed. No gun on the premises, but by the fault of policemen’s ineptitude, it was first ruled as a suicide. Beck is the opposite of all his colleagues. He doesn’t jump on conclusions, he doesn’t hurry to arrest anyone, he’s polite and patient. The ending of the book really questions what is real justice.
Also, as I had remembered how Beck was stuck in an unhappy marriage, it made me really happy that he seemed to find a nice girlfriend. Don’t you see how I feel Beck was an old friend I was seeing from time to time? I really wish his new relationship will work out. Well, we’ll see, probably in a year or two…