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Sjowall, Maj and Wahloo, Per - 'The Fire Engine That Disappeared'
Paperback: 288 pages (June 2007) Publisher: HarperPerennial ISBN: 0007242956

At the risk of sounding overenthusiastic, here is another superb outing in the Martin Beck series. The first few chapters, which describe a stakeout in which Gunvald Larsson of the homicide squad is reluctantly involved, are brilliant. The authors capture so well the big picture and the minutiae of normal life that together create a tense, involving drama.

THE FIRE ENGINE THAT DISAPPEARED is about a case in which a large house blows up: was it deliberate arson or an accidental blaze? Due to a coincidence bought about by his own personality quirks, Larsson himself, a senior detective, witnesses the explosion that decimates the house, and becomes a hero in rescuing some of the inhabitants from a certain death. He's concussed in the process, so is signed off work. The official police investigation continues, but the parallel, decidedly unofficial, interviews performed by the disgruntled Larsson are hilarious.

Martin Beck has been promoted to Chief Inspector at the start of this novel. His family life, always unhappy, takes a dive because the only person with whom he feels a connection, his teenage daughter Ingrid, announces she is leaving now that she is sixteen. Ingrid never says much, but one gets the impression she has been biding her time to escape. In one brief but moving scene, she lets down her defences to her father and offers him some advice that he finds shocking but exhilarating. Later in the book, Beck lies to his wife for the first time because he cannot stand the prospect of spending a vacation with his brother-in-law. He pretends he has to work, but instead spends the holiday weekend with his friend Kollberg, Kollberg's wife and baby daughter, and their friend Asa (a character introduced in the previous book, THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN, and whom I am glad to see again here). Although suffering constant low-level ill-heath and depression, Martin seems unusually happy during this brief weekend respite from his usual domestic routine.

The case proceeds: Swedish regional rivalries come into play when a lead develops in the southern city of Malmo, and Martin becomes reacquainted with Inspector Mansson, who also featured briefly but significantly in the previous book. Mansson and Beck mutually decide to help each other, and after a trip to Denmark and a helpful witness, their cooperation results in an eventual solution to some interlinked crimes.

Maxine Clarke, England
September 2008

Maxine blogs at Petrona.

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 28/02/2010 11:32