Cover image of "The Man Who Went Up in Smoke," a great example of early Scandinavian noir

Some mystery novelists trace the origins of their craft to any one of several nineteenth century writers: Edgar Allen Poe, Willkie Collins, Arthur Conan Doyle, and others. But there appears to be a consensus among contemporary writers—at least among those who are partial to police procedurals—that the leading source of inspiration among modern authors was the Swedish husband-and-wife team of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Their work provides us with the greatest examples of early Scandinavian noir.

Don’t miss the ten Martin Beck novels

Writing in the 1960s and 70s, Sjöwall and Wahlöö produced a series of ten novels featuring Inspector Martin Beck of the Swedish National Police. Unlike the contrived and stylized drawing-room mysteries of Agatha Christie and her many imitators, the Swedish duo never appeared to be in the business of entertainment alone, though their work is unquestionably entertaining: they used their genre as a mirror on society with all its flaws, much as Henning Mankell (in Sweden) and Jo Nesbö (in Norway) have done so ably in later decades. And Martin Beck, like Mankell’s Kurt Wallander and Nesbö’s Harry Hole after them, is a deeply flawed human being. Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö were the originators of Scandinavian noir.

The Man Who Went Up In Smoke is Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s second Martin Beck novel. I found it to be a much more accomplished effort than the first book in the series, Roseanna, in which the authors went to extraordinary lengths to communicate the tedium and wasted effort of police work and succeeded in becoming boring at times in the process. Set largely in Budapest, where Martin Beck has been sent to track down a Swedish reporter who disappeared there, The Man Who Went Up In Smoke is a complex, fast-moving, and suspenseful tale that will keep a reader guessing until the end (as it did Martin Beck).

The Man Who Went Up in Smoke (Martin Beck #2) by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö ★★★★★

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