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by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
Orion, March 2004
217 pages
ISBN: 0752856138

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I always wonder about translations. I read a fair few European crime novels, translated into English, and find myself spending an inordinate amount of time speculating on whether the translator has been true to the original.

ROSEANNA, by Swedish husband and wife team Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, has been reissued nearly 40 years on by Orion as part of the impressive Crime Masterworks series. Lois Roth's translation is very American-sounding, though, and I'm not sure the inhabitants of 1960s Stockholm would be talking about dames and dimes like something out of Damon Runyon.

But this was the one bum note struck in what is a crime classic. Martin Beck is a Stockholm detective called in to help investigate the murder of a young woman dredged up in a canal. Like all the best detectives, he's morose, anti-social, has a crumbling marriage and is unhealthy.

The case looks like going nowhere fast, but, thanks to methodical and old-fashioned policework, and a couple of lucky breaks, the police discover the woman's identity and set about piecing together what happened to her. A tourist's photographs, and help from a detective in far-off Nebraska in the States shunt things along.

Sjowall and Wahloo wrote ten Beck mysteries between 1965 and 1975 before Wahloo's death. The books are essential reading, not least for their water-tight writing and plotting, for the influence they have on later writers such as Henning Mankell and Karin Fossum and for the writers' willingness to play around with style and form. Most of the book is in tight, matter-of-fact prose, but every so often there's a scene in transcript which maps the progress of a frustrating and seemingly doomed enquiry.

Beck -- truly the father of Mankell's Kurt Wallender -- is the compelling character, but he is surrounded by a cast sketched in economically but in sharp relief. I particularly warmed to Beck's colleague Kollberg -- fat, jolly and rumpled, but a razor-sharp detective. And ROSEANNA is another book -- like Wallender's series -- where the bleak, freezing landscape is so significant.

Read ROSEANNA. This is precision writing and police procedurals at their absolute finest.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, May 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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