Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, The Abominable Man (1971)

Although this one is #7 in the series (of 10), this is my penultimate book (as I didn’t read it in order, but in function of what was at the library). Strangely enough, the library doesn’t have the whole series, and they might have been scared by such an abominable title. (or by the book cover). Another version would be that it was so good that a reader stole the library copy. Whatever the version I choose, I’m glad I have bought this copy, because it’s quite memorable.

The Abominable Man (in Swedish version The repulsive man from Saffle) is not the killer. It’s actually the victim. A man is killed with a bayonet as he lies defenseless in a hospital bed. He was a high-ranking policeman and a former soldier. But don’t cry for him just yet. As Martin Beck and his team investigate, they discover that this man was the epitome of police brutality. By his negligence, prejudices, direct or indirect actions, he’s responsible for the death of several innocent people and the harassment and unfair indictment of countless others. In short, he won’t be missed much and it’s rather difficult to narrow down a list of suspects. To make it even more relevant to some recent cases in the media, a lot of people among the police force were aware of his cruelty and abuses, and they all kept silent.

Contrary to several books of the series, where the crime is rather banal and the investigation is long and tedious, this book is flashy and cinematic. The killer with the bayonet will not stop just with one victim, his despair and hatred have turned against the whole police force and he’s not afraid to die. It’s a tragedy of epic dimensions, and the humor of the previous volumes is scarce. The denunciation of the systemic corruption of capitalist (patriarchy, conservative, insert any of the more current vocabulary) Swedish society gets more obvious, but never at the cost of forgetting the human dimension. That’s why Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s books are still so relevant today.

The book is so full of tension, it’s hard to stop reading, especially the last quarter of the book. There’s a rampage of violence, with a single man on one hand, and the entire Swedish armed forces on the other hand. The cliff-hanger is absolutely nail-biting, but I spoiled it a bit for myself by having read book #8 before. Don’t make the same mistake!

In a twisted way, it reminded me of a classic 1975 French movie with Jean-Paul Belmondo, Peur sur la ville (The Night Caller in UK/US), where the whole of the police force is hunting a cunning killer throughout a dehumanized landscape of modern towers, but in many important ways the movie and this book are polar opposites. In the movie, no soul-searching about the systemic violence of the police, no social criticism, but instead a not-so-subtle manly man demonstration of force to protect weak single women from evil killers who certainly aren’t worth a fair trial, and barely the bullet of the good detective’s gun. Unless you’re interested in cultural movie history, don’t bother watching this dud, but I guess the relentless movie music by Enio Morricone would be the perfect soundtrack for the Sjöwall & Wahlöö book.

We’re now in December, and only one last book left in the series to complete! I can’t wait!

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