Sjöwall and Wahlöö

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Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö are a common-law[1] wife and husband team of detective writers from Sweden. Together, during the 1960s and 1970s, they conceived and wrote a series of ten novels (police procedurals) about the exploits of detectives from the special homicide commission of the Swedish national police in which the character of Martin Beck was the protagonist. Both authors also wrote novels separately. For the Martin Beck series, they plotted and researched each book together then wrote alternate chapters.[2]

Martin Beck series[edit]

The couple originally planned the series as a sequence of ten novels collectively titled The Story of a Crime. The novels revolve around a team of police investigators led by Martin Beck.

  1. Roseanna (Roseanna, 1965)
  2. The Man Who Went Up in Smoke (Mannen som gick upp i rök, 1966)
  3. The Man on the Balcony (Mannen på balkongen, 1967)
  4. The Laughing Policeman (Den skrattande polisen, 1968) (Edgar Award, Best Novel, 1971)
  5. The Fire Engine That Disappeared (Brandbilen som försvann, 1969)
  6. Murder at the Savoy (Polis, polis, potatismos!, 1970)
  7. The Abominable Man (Den vedervärdige mannen från Säffle, 1971)
  8. The Locked Room (Det slutna rummet, 1972)
  9. Cop Killer (Polismördaren, 1974)
  10. The Terrorists (Terroristerna, 1975)


Primary characters[edit]

Martin Beck
Detective first grade and later promoted to inspector.
Sten Lennart Kollberg
Beck's most trusted colleague: a sarcastic glutton with a Socialist worldview; served as a paratrooper and now refuses to carry a gun—after having shot and killed a person while in the line of duty. He is newly married in the second book and fathers two children over the course of the series. In The Fire Engine That Disappeared, he refers to Gunvald Larsson as "the stupidest detective in the history of criminal investigation," and in The Abominable Man, Larsson informs him, "I've always thought you were a fucking idiot." He resigns from the force at the end of the penultimate book, Cop Killer, but still has the last word in the final installment.
Gunvald Larsson
A former member of the merchant marine and the black sheep of a rich family; he has a liking for expensive clothes and pulp fiction including the work of Sax Rohmer. He is also one of very few people outside East Germany who owns and drives a sports car manufactured by Eisenacher Motorenwerk. He is somewhat lacking in interpersonal skills and is disliked by most of his colleagues. He and Kollberg share a mutual antipathy, but are capable of working together efficiently when the occasion demands it. However, despite the fact that he often treats Einar Rönn with the same boorishness and insensitive tactlessness that he does everybody else, Rönn is his only friend and the two are close, often spending time together outside of the job.
Einar Rönn
Larsson's friend from the rural north of Sweden; permanently red-nosed, incapable of writing a coherent report and totally unimaginative, but a hard-working and efficient policeman. He is very calm and peaceful, only losing his temper once (on Larsson's behalf) in all the books.
Benny Skacke
A young ambitious, overzealous and sometimes hapless detective. He is introduced in the fifth book as a new member of the homicide commission, but later transfers to Malmö for personal reasons. Skacke is still somewhat naïve, seeking to become police commissioner, but he is noted by Beck in the last book as having matured significantly.
Fredrik Melander
Noted for his flawless memory and for always being in the lavatory when anyone wants him. Melander is described as a first-class policeman in The Fire Engine That Disappeared, but also as very boring. Some of his other peculiar characteristics include his insistence on getting ten hours of sleep every night and his unreadable handwriting. He is also noted for having no temper and being immune to flattery. He later transfers to the Burglary and Theft division in an effort to avoid overtime. Therefore he features only briefly in the later books in the series (except The Terrorists).
Evald Hammar
Beck's boss until he retires in the end of The Fire Engine That Disappeared. He is mild-mannered, trusts his men's judgment and dislikes the political infighting which increasingly accompanies his job.
Stig Malm
Beck's boss from Murder at the Savoy onwards. A politician with little understanding of police work.

Other major characters[edit]

Kurt Kvant and Karl Kristiansson
Lazy and inept partner patrolmen from Skåne. After Kvant is killed in The Abominable Man, Kristiansson has a new partner, Kenneth Kvastmo, who is equally inept but far more zealous.
Per Månsson
A leisurely but very competent Malmö detective who becomes involved in several of Beck's cases.
Åke Stenström
A young detective noted for his shadowing skills, who is killed in The Laughing Policeman.
Åsa Torell
Widow of Åke Stenström who later decides to become a cop. She appears prominently in Murder at the Savoy and The Terrorists.

Minor recurring characters[edit]

An unimaginative and rigid detective in Malmö.
Inga Beck
Martin Beck's wife, whom he later divorces.
Ingrid Beck
Martin Beck's daughter, often described as mature and independent and has a good relationship with her father.
Rolf Beck
Martin Beck's lazy son, with whom he has a poor relationship. Beck finally admits to himself in a later book that he dislikes the boy.
Rune Ek
One of the detectives. The character is usually minor, but appears more prominently in The Laughing Policeman.
Elofsson and Borglund
Two partner patrolmen in Malmö. They appear in The Fire Engine that Disappeared and Cop Killer. In the later book, Borglund is killed.
Norman Hansson
A uniformed police sergeant in some of the books.
Oskar Hjelm
A highly skilled but vain and temperamental forensic scientist.
Gun Kollberg
Kollberg's young wife and mother of his two children.
Rhea Nielsen
Martin Beck's new girlfriend after he divorces his wife. She is an open socialist, and enjoys cooking.
Herrgott Nöjd (Herrgott Allwright in English translations)
A down-to-earth police from the rural district of Anderslöv. Appears in the books Cop Killer and The Terrorists.
Sten "Buldozer" Ohlsson
A very energetic and enthusiastic public prosecutor in charge of investigating and prosecuting bank robbers; has a big part in The Locked Room.
A Stockholm detective with a minor role in some of the books. Little is known about him, but he is disliked by both Beck and Larsson.
A pedant and nit-picking detective in some of the books, who is constantly making official complaints of his collagues over usually minor details.
Bo Zachrisson
A very mediocre policeman.


All of Sjöwall and Wahlöö's books have been adapted as films at least once (Roseanna twice), in different parts of the world. Since 1997, a popular movie series has been co-produced by German and Swedish companies. Many of these films have gone directly to TV.

Radio adaptations[edit]

BBC Radio 4 has adapted the series, broadcasting the first of five adaptations on 27 October 2012. The second five adaptations began being broadcast on 6 July 2013. Beck is played by Steven Mackintosh and Kollberg by Neil Pearson.[3]

External links[edit]

References, sources and endnotes[edit]

  1. ^ France, Louise (2009-11-22). "The queen of crime". The Guardian (London). 
  2. ^ "HarperCollins Crime & Thrillers – Interviews – Maj Sjöwall". HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. Retrieved 2008-06-20. 
  3. ^ Foreign Bodies: The Martin Beck Killings