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The Martin Beck series - The Fire Engine That Disappeared (original 1969; edition 2007)

by Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö

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7181613,105 (3.84)25
Member:gaskella
Title:The Martin Beck series - The Fire Engine That Disappeared
Authors:Maj Sjöwall
Other authors:Per Wahlöö
Info:Fourth Estate (2007), Edition: (Reissue), Paperback, 288 pages
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The Fire Engine that Disappeared by Maj Sjöwall (1969)

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English (14)  Danish (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (16)
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö are not only the grandparents of the Scandinavian crime novel, but there 10-volume series of novels (known in English, somewhat misleadingly as the “Martin Beck” series) pretty much (with some influence from Ed McBains 87th Precinct series) defined the shape of contemporary police procedurals.

What the series basically does is to combine social realism with the mystery novel – it takes an unflinching look at Swedish society from the early sixties to the early seventies, a look that becomes increasingly tinged with bitterness as a supposedly welfare state lets go more and more of its promise to build a better future for everyone, and instead continues to privilege the rich and powerful. Which would be very depressing stuff, if it wasn’t made readable, enjoyable even (to some degree at least) by the mystery plot that keeps readers turning the pages even as they are confronted with a sheer endless parade of human misery and mean-spiritedness. Formally considered, this is very 19th century, as Sjöwall / Wahlöö use mystery in very much the same way as Dickens or Zola used melodrama, and I would not be at all surprised if that was a tradition they intentionally decided to place themselves in.

The Fire Engine that Disappeared is the fifth volume in the series, and it continues its general trend to become increasingly focused on the character’s private lives and on giving a picture of Swedish society at the time. There is more space given to the character’s concerns outside of their police job than before, and the narrative is even more de-centralized, Martin Beck becoming almost a minor figure as the novel follows his colleagues Larsson and Kollberg as well as Mansson from Malmö and newcomer Skane. That emphasizes one of the distinguishing features of this series, the utter ordinariness of its protagonists which are not only not outstandingly good-looking or intelligent, but frequently not even particularly good policemen, but just civil servants that do their job without any particular enthusiasm and who get results not so much by brilliant deduction than by luck or sheer dogged persistence.

The latter is particularly ironic if one considers how many of the cases could just as well have occurred in a classical mystery novel. While the puzzle element is not as strong here as in the previous novel, the investigators find themselves confronted by the corpse of someone who apparently committed suicide as well as being murdered. The Fire Engine that Disappeared takes its time in solving the crime, both in that the investigations span several months and in that the novel is not what anyone would call a page-turner. It’s not slow either, however, but moves along at a steady, comfortable speed, giving readers the chance to take in the scenery along that way, as bleak as that proves to be. And it’s precisely this view of the scenery that will likely linger longest with the reader, Sjöwall/Wahlöö’s hard and uncompromising perspective on a welfare state coming apart (a perspective which I’m convinced they developed not in spite of but because of their Marxist views – something I might return to in a post on a later volume) will remain in most readers’ memory even when the details of the crime plot have faded.
  Larou | Nov 13, 2014 |
I bought two books of the Martin Beck series, The Man On The Balcony (TMOTB) and The Fire Engine That Disappeared (TFETD), and read them one after the other. Although many of the involved characters are the same the style of the books could hardly be more different.

The Man On The Balcony burns on a slow, consistent, fuse, a Catherine Wheel of a book, whereas The Fire Engine That Disappeared fizzes like a Jumping Jack never sure of which way it will go next.
Each has its merits, though as a matter of preference and enjoyment TMOTB had the edge for me.

Each book is set in 60s Stockholm and any reader who imagines paedophilia, hard core drugs, promiscuity, street crime, and the like are recent phenomenon in society may be somewhat suprised to read just how prevalent they are in 60s city life, which makes the books seems very contemporary.

Though TFETD ventures further afield with significant references to France and Denmark especially and a plot which embraces the beginnings of cross border terrorism and gang warfare, the evocative scenes and action of TMOTB are concentrated in well defined districts of the city and the book is highly personalised and quietly emotive in documenting the hunt for a predatory child killer.
In TMOTB, Beck and his motley crew of detective colleagues languish over the evidence having already dismissed unknowingly a crucial lead. The bad luck is almost repeated at the end only for chance to play a part in resolving the case, though painstaking research ensured this time the chance was not passed up. TMOTB is a comfortable though melancholy read which is extremely believable.
TFETD picks up the Beck series a little further down the line and the first notable aspect is the changed relationships between the various detectives, being more fractious and weary with each other. The plot is a complicated and convoluted one and in the end I found I was confused as to quite who was who and where the pieces fitted. I finished the book not really able to recall the various criminal intrigues which lead to a house fire in which a seemingly petty criminal was killed, and then to the finale and fate of the mastermind.
So, very different writing styles, each worthy, each thoroughly researched and well crafted, I enjoyed TMOTB and was a little less enamoured with TFETD but would understand how another reader may take an opposite view. ( )
  DekeDastardly | May 23, 2012 |
THE FIRE ENGINE THAT DISAPPEARED is a perfect illustration of the concept that solving homicide cases is a mixture of accumulating evidence through painstaking and methodical sleuthing with flashes of intuition. In any investigative team the role of some will be the sleuthing, but it will often be the intuition that solves the case. The problem is that without the painstaking sleuthing little intuition is possible, and the accumulation of evidence is often necessary to both break the perpetrator and for for successful prosecution to take place. There is also often a problem in getting all the essential information into one brain. It takes all kinds to form a good team of detectives: plods, cynics, workaholics, as well as those who carefully compartmentalise their lives. Successful resolution requires testing theories, discarding those that don't fit, following the occasional red herring, and often, as in this case a long passage of time. The threads that make up a case often first present separately but as the plot develops they begin to converge.

One of the things that this novel clearly shows too is that each of the team has a private life. In THE FIRE ENGINE THAT DISAPPEARED Martin Beck's marriage appears to be on the point of collapse. This seems to be something so common to the modern detective that we almost take it for granted.

The Martin Beck series was written in the late 1960s and now five decades later we can still appreciate how cleverly they were constructed. ( )
  smik | Oct 5, 2011 |
For a book published in 1970 this book wears surprisingly well. The book has just enough mystery, detective work, characterization, and most of all humor to sustain it throughout. I have not read any other books in this series, and was amused by the humor in it. Some parts of it had me laughing out loud. However, the humor in no way detracts from the story line. This book made me want to know more about this homicide detective team. ( )
  benitastrnad | Oct 5, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Maj Sjöwallprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wahlöö, PerAuthormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Wahlöö, Permain authorall editionsconfirmed
Öström, ArneCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bruna, DickCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dahmann, SusanneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Deutsch, MichelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Engen, BodilTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hodijk, W.M.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nielsen, BjarneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Persson, Leif GWPréfacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schulz, EckehardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tate, JoanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zatti, RenatoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The man lying dead on the tidily made bed had first taken off his jacket and tie and hung them over the chair by the door.
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"The lightning-paced fifth novel in the Martin Beck mystery series by the internationally renowned crime writing duo, Maj Sj?owall and Per Wahl?o?o, finds Beck investigating one of the strangest, most violent, and unforgettable crimes of his career. The incendiary device that blew the roof off a Stockholm apartment not only interrupted the small, peaceful orgy underway inside, it nearly took the lives of the building's eleven occupants. And if one of Martin Beck's colleagues hadn't been on the scene, the explosion would have led to a major catastrophe because somehow a regulation fire-truck has vanished. Was it terrorism, suicide, or simply a gas leak? And what if, anything, did the explosion have to do with the peculiar death earlier that day of a 46-year-old bachelor whose cryptic suicide note consisted of only two words: "Martin Beck"?"--P. [4] of cover.… (more)

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