The Top Five Best Martin Beck Novels To Give You A Glimpse Of The Founding-Father of Scandinavian Crime Fiction

martin beck

As I explore the upcoming novels of 2019 and the treats in store for the coming year I cannot help but noticing the changing trends in the literary market. A few years ago Scandinavian Crime Fiction was all the rage: today, British and American authors dominate the genre, with a number of Scandinavian authors among the few to be published in English and noted by the UK’s bookselling community.

This seems a shame, but I was heartened to see that some fondness for Scandinavian Crime Fiction remains, with fabled writers such as Jo Nesbo continuing to make their mark. As the New Year begins and the weather is freezing I have been re-reading some Scandinavian Crime Fiction classics, which bought me back to some of my old favourites.

Among these is the founding father of Scandinavian Crime Fiction, a Stockholm based detective named Martin Beck, the creation of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Their works spanned ten novels, each of which forms a chapter of his life. Dialogue plays a large part in each book, with whole chapters often dedicated to discussions between either Beck and his colleagues or his suspects. The way in which Beck interacts with the world around him and tries to find order in the chaos of the horrific crimes he investigates is similar to that of Maigret, Georges Simenon’s renowned Parisian inspector, and as such he’d make a great read for anyone who’s a fan of Simenon’s pipe-smoking, dour detective.

Additionally, for those who made it a New Years Resolution to check out a new series or revisit the beginnings of a genre, Martin Beck will be perfect. Whilst I appreciate that the ten novels are meant to be read in sequence, I personally very rarely follow this, and as such I feel some are simply better than others and worth reading first. If you like them you could always buy all ten and read them in sequence later!

5. Murder at the Savoy: The direct translation for this novel’s title is actually Police, Police, Mashed Potatoes!, which is part of the reason why I like it so much. It was also one of the first Martin Beck novels I ever read, and I am rather fond of it as a result. It is one of the more adventurous books in the series, following the investigation into the murder of a powerful businessman and ruthless arms dealer who is shot in a packed restaurant. With many enemies to sift through in order to find his killer Beck and his team have their work cut out, but the culprit turns out to be one of the least vicious and dastardly of all of the victim’s numerous unscrupulous associates, making for a great twist.

4. The Abominable Man: When a brutal and spiteful policeman is murdered in hospital Beck and his colleagues must explore the man’s past in order to understand how he came to be killed in such a violent and messy way. The ending is a great example of the authors’ chillingly brutal violent scenes, which are few and far between but are brilliantly choreographed to have the reader on tenterhooks throughout.

3. The Laughing Policeman: A classic case of a set of murders used to conceal one true killing, the novel centres around Beck’s hunt for the person who killed a colleague as part of a mass shooting. Having been shot on a bus Detective Åke Stenström’s death is treated as part of a mass shooting until Beck uncovers that he was in fact unofficially investigating a cold case in his spare time. An award-winning novel, this is one of the most renowned in the series and was even adapted into a comic book a few years ago.

2. Cop Killer: The return of a killer he previously convicted brings Martin Beck face-to-face with his past as he seeks to look beyond the obvious and find the true killer, whose identity is intrinsically linked to the murder of a policeman in an incident which is initially believed to be unrelated. A complicated yet less plodding mystery than others in the series, this is a great one to start with despite being 9th in the series.

1. Rosanna: The first book in the series is a great place to start, and in the Martin Beck series this has never been more true. Rosanna tells the story of a body pulled from a river and a desperate search, which ends up taking more than a year, for the perverted killer of a young American tourist who was taking a pleasure cruise through Sweden.


3 thoughts on “The Top Five Best Martin Beck Novels To Give You A Glimpse Of The Founding-Father of Scandinavian Crime Fiction

  1. Pingback: Death steals everything except our stories

  2. Pingback: Maj Sjöwall Obituary – The Dorset Book Detective

  3. john flaherty

    The Martin Beck series has a somewhat dated feel and simplicity as compared to the Lars Kepler books which are better written and more contemporary. Some people might feel the Kepler boos are too trendy. Name dropping in other words. True but once you get beyond that I like the Kepler books better.


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