Martin Beck is a fictional Swedish police detective who is the main character in a series of ten novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, written in the 1960s and 70s and collectively titled The Story of a Crime. The stories are often seen largely from his perspective and are frequently referred to as the Martin Beck stories.
Throughout the novels, he goes from being an unhappily married man and father to two young teenagers, to a divorced man in an unmarried relationship. Beck is prone to colds and often is suffering from ailments and physical discomforts. Beck also gets several promotions, seemingly much to the chagrin of everyone involved, including himself.
Sjöwall and Wahlöö's technique of mixing traditional crime fiction with a focus on the social issues in the Swedish welfare state received a great deal of attention. The concept was updated in the 1990s with Henning Mankell's detective character Kurt Wallander and in the 2000s with Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy featuring Lisbeth Salander.
The basic concept has, by extension, given rise to the entire Scandinavian noir scene.
01: 1965: ROSEANNA
'Roseanna' begins on a July afternoon, the body of a young woman is dredged from Sweden's beautiful Lake Vattern. Three months later, all that Police Inspector Martin Beck knows is that her name is Roseanna, that she came from Lincoln, Nebraska, and that she could have been strangled by any one of eighty-five people.
With its authentically rendered settings and vividly realized characters, and its command over the intricately woven details of police detection, 'Roseanna' is a masterpiece of suspense and sadness.
02: 1966: THE MAN WHO WENT UP IN SMOKE
‘The Man Who Went Up in Smoke’ starts as Martin Beck has just begun his holiday: an August spent with his family on a small island off the coast of Sweden. But when a neighbour gets a phone call, Beck finds himself packed off to Budapest, where a boorish journalist has vanished without a trace. Instead of passing leisurely sun-filled days with his children, Beck must stroll about in the Eastern Europe underworld for a man nobody knows, with the aid of the coolly efficient local police, who do business while soaking at the public baths – and at the risk of vanishing along with his quarry.
03: 1967: THE MAN ON THE BALCONY
Someone is assaulting and killing young girls in the once-peaceful parks of Stockholm. People are tense and fearful. Detective Inspector Martin Beck has two witnesses: a cold-blooded mugger who won't say much, and a three year old boy who can't say much. The killer will strike again, and the police are getting nowhere. Time is running out. But then Beck remembers someone - or something - he overheard.
‘The Man on the Balcony’ balances the most inhuman of crimes with the humanity of the men who must solve it – resulting in a police procedural that is as moving and credible as it is enthralling.
04: 1968: THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN
On a cold and rainy Stockholm night, nine bus riders are gunned down by an unknown assassin. The press, anxious for an explanation for the seemingly random crime, quickly dubs him a madman. But Martin Beck of the Homicide Squad suspects otherwise: this apparently motiveless killer has managed to target one of Beck’s best detectives – and he, surely, would not have been riding that lethal bus without a reason.
With its wonderfully observed lawmen, its brilliantly rendered felons and their murky Stockholm underworld, and its deftly engineered plot, ‘The Laughing Policeman’ has long been recognised as a classic of the police procedural.
05: 1969: THE FIRE ENGINE THAT DISAPPEARED
06: 1970: MURDER AT THE SAVOY
07: 1971: THE ABOMINABLE MAN
08: 1972: THE LOCKED ROOM
09: 1974: COP KILLER
10: 1975: THE TERRORISTS