#AW80Books: ‘The Man Who Went Up in Smoke’ by Sjowall & Wahloo
It’s been a while since I read the first novel by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, Roseanna, and as I’ve abandoned myself to my current craving for crime, I thought I’d dig out the next in the Martin Beck series. Funnily enough, I read Roseanna as part of our on-going armchair travels for our Around the World in 80 Books reading challenge, and I was only a few pages into The Man Who Went Up In Smoke when I discovered that much of the novel is set in Hungary. Bingo – another stop off on my travels!
I enjoyed Roseanna, but by the end, I felt it was too early to tell whether Martin Beck would really win me over as a character. I did have my doubts, but very early on in TMWWUIS I had warmed to Beck’s thoughtful approach and social detachment. A sensitive case calls him away from a month long holiday with his family on a tiny Swedish island. His wife’s resignation to his absence speaks volumes and I got the impression that he was quite content to grapple with the peculiarities of the missing person case he is assigned, and which for much of the time, he investigates alone.
The missing person, Alf Matsson, is a Swedish journalist, who has disappeared in Budapest, and Beck is sent to uncover what happened to him. Rather than the wintry backdrop I was expecting, the novel is set in the height of summer, and captures the fatigue and haze of a city caught in a heat wave perfectly. The investigation seems slow and without any leads for a while. In fact, at one point, as Beck ponders the belongings left in the missing man’s room, I did wonder if Matsson would turn out to be a ‘George Kalplan’ from the film North by Northwest, and not exist at all. As events brew, Beck delves into the murky underbelly of Budapest crime, escaping narrowly with his life. Still, there seems to be no clear reason for the journalist’s disappearance. However, beneath the placid, detached exterior, Beck’s razor sharp mind is whirring away making connections that will eventually solve the mystery, and a very satisfying ending it had indeed.
It’s no secret that Henning Mankell was heavily influenced by the Beck series in his creation of Kurt Wallander, and as characters they do share similar traits of being brilliant loners, far more successful at crime-solving than they are at relationships. I thoroughly enjoyed this the second in the Martin Beck series and it certainly won’t be my last. I doubt Martin Beck or any detective will ever hold a place in my heart like Kurt Wallander does (played by Krister Henriksson, obviously), but I’ll definitely enjoy getting to know him better.