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Authors: Maj Sjowall,Per Wahloo

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The Abominable Man

BOOK: The Abominable Man
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Praise for
                       PER WAHLÖÖ

“The series of detective stories by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, starring Martin Beck, has maintained such a degree of excellence that comparisons are near impossible.”

—Minneapolis Tribune

“The first great series of police thrillers.… Truly exciting.”

—Michael Ondaatje

“Anyone who doesn’t know their work and likes murder mysteries has a real treat coming, namely reading one of their books.… Person ally we like Beck even better than Simenon’s Inspector Maigret.”

Indianapolis Star

“The Martin Beck books are exemplary police procedurals.”

The Washington Post

“So many of the elements that have become integral … in the police procedural subgenre started life in these ten novels.… Their plots are second to none.”

—Val McDermid


Translation copyright © 1972 by Random House, Inc.
Introduction copyright © 2009 by Jens Lapidus

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in Sweden as
Den vedervärdige mannen fian Säffle
by P.A. Norstedt & Söners Förlag, Stockholm, in 1971. Copyright © 1971 by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. This translation originally published in a slightly different form in hardcover in the United States by Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, in 1972, and subsequently published by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, in 1980.

Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage Crime/Black Lizard and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

The Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:
Sjöwall, Maj, 1935–
[Den vedervärdige mannen från Säffle. English]
The abominable man / by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö; translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal.—2nd Vintage Crime/Black Lizard ed. 1. Beck, Martin (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Police—Sweden— Stockholm—Fiction.
I. Wahlöö, Per 1926-1975, joint author. II. Title.
PZ4.S61953 Ab 1980 [PT9876.29.J63]

eISBN: 978-0-307-77284-8



About the Author

Other Books by This Author

Also by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö


Few writers have influenced an entire genre in the way that Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö have. It is not surprising then that so many colleagues read the Story of Crime series as soon as the books were published, or shortly thereafter. They raced through the books in a matter of days, in breathless admiration. And they are happy to tell that they discovered and were influenced by this new way of writing crime early on. A new voice. A new angle.

I wasn’t even born when
The Abominable Man
was published, as the seventh book in the series. And I didn’t read my first crime novel until I was twenty-five. I know that may sound a bit nerdy, but it’s the truth. I was more of a quasi-intellectual, who wandered around in a worn parka and generally read Russian or American classics. Crime novels were not good enough.

But I always knew about
The Abominable Man.
And despite my lack of interest in the genre, it affected me indirectly and helped to shape my understanding of how Stockholm and Sweden could be portrayed. Only not in book form.

Like so many others, I was introduced to the book by the film adaptation,
Mannen på taket
(The Man on the Roof), which was made in Sweden in 1976. I was only two in 1976. But about ten years later, toward the end of the 1980s, a series of Bo Widerberg’s films were shown again on Swedish television. I argued with my parents for days. I fought for the right to see what I understood to be the greatest Swedish action film ever. “No,” they said. “It’s too disturbing, too violent. It
might have a negative effect on you.”

“Yes,” I said. “Everyone else is going to watch it and they’ll all be talking about it at school tomorrow. It’s not fair.”

And for some reason, they gave in (which, by the way, they didn’t when it came to Hitchcock’s
or Don Siegel’s
Dirty Harry,
which were also shown on TV that year). Perhaps it was because they shared Sjöwall & Wahlöö’s left-wing ideals. Or perhaps it was because the film was Swedish, which in my parents’ eyes meant that it would be, by definition, less corrupting than anything Anglo-Saxon.

However, the film was anything but “Swedish.” It was modern American action of the most graphic sort. For example, a Bell 206 Jet Ranger crashes into the entrance of the men’s toilets on Odenplan in central Stockholm. This isn’t actually where the police helicopter crashes in the book, but that doesn’t matter—it was happening in my town, at a place that I knew. In my world, for real. It was the first time I had seen anything that felt so authentic, and the image of that painted helicopter often still pops into my mind when I take the metro from Odenplan.

I was struck by the same feeling years later when I finally got over my literary snobbishness and read
The Abominable Man.
It was the feeling that someone had for the first time managed to describe criminality and police work in Stockholm adequately, in a way that was real, as it might actually have happened. In a way that I could still recognize, even though the book had been written more than thirty-five years ago.

It has been said many times that it is in fact Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s radical perspective that created the Swedish crime genre. They carried on the tradition of Swedish proletarian writers such as Ivar Lo-Johansson and Per Anders Fogelström, and developed a new social criticism that was a natural part of the narrative.

The Story of Crime series is also about Stockholm, the
city. It is a joy to follow Martin Beck as he drives through the streets, streets that I myself have walked down a hundred times or more. Or to read about the shooting incident at the Eastman Institute, where I myself went several times as a child to have my braces adjusted. Or to read the descriptions of the buildings and open spaces on the island of Reimersholme, where I go jogging several times a month.

The portrayal of the city means so much to me, but not only because I come from Stockholm. The books describe a city and a country in the grip of change, just as they describe a time of change; a time when the importance of the manufacturing industry in Sweden was on the decline in favor of more service-related industries, when Sweden had really started to accept foreign immigration. A time when enormous changes in infrastructure generated a whole new set of challenges for the Swedish people, but also created new opportunities for crime. It was a time when sexual liberation went hand in hand with political awareness, when the old was truly replaced by the new.

It was also a time when a new way of thinking about humanity took root.
The Abominable Man,
for example, deals with the issue of the police monopoly on violence. What constitutes a good cop and a bad cop?

In one of the key scenes in the book, Martin Beck interrogates an old colleague who has worked for the police since the 1930s, and who claims that he learned everything from his mentor, a tough cop from the old school. Beck understands what he means and replies: “How to commit perjury, for example? Or how to copy each other’s reports so that everything tallies, even if every word is a lie? How to beat up people in custody?”

In retrospect, such questions may seem natural, and I am certain that Sweden is a better place today. But what is incredible is the fact that the book was written in 1971, in the midst of searing and tumultuous changes in society. Sjöwall
and Wahlöö’s ability to analyze and, not least, write about these changes from the inside, as they were happening, and with such literary quality, is spellbinding. And that magic is still there today.

—Jens Lapidus
Stockholm, April 11, 2009


Just after midnight he stopped thinking.

He’d been writing something earlier, but now the blue ballpoint pen lay in front of him on the newspaper, exactly in the right-hand column of the crossword puzzle. He was sitting erect and utterly motionless on a worn wooden chair in front of a low table in the cramped little attic room. A round yellowish lampshade with a long fringe hung above his head. The fabric was pale with age, and the light from the feeble bulb was hazy and uncertain.

It was quiet in the house. But the quiet was relative—inside there were three people breathing, and from outside came an indistinct, pulsating, barely discernible murmur. As if from traffic on far-off highways, or from a distant boiling sea. The sound of a million human beings. Of a large city in its anxious sleep.

The man in the attic room was dressed in a beige lumberjacket, gray ski pants, a machine-knit black turtleneck sweater and brown ski boots. He had a large but well-tended moustache, just a shade lighter than the hair combed smoothly back at an angle across his head. His face was narrow, with a clean profile and finely chiseled features, and behind the rigid mask of resentful accusation and obstinate purpose there was an almost childlike expression, weak and perplexed and appealing, and nevertheless a little bit calculating.

His clear blue eyes were steady but vacant.

He looked like a little boy grown suddenly very old.

The man sat stock still for almost an hour, the palms of his hands resting on his thighs, his eyes staring blankly at the same spot on the faded flowered wallpaper.

Then he stood up, walked across the room, opened a closet door, reached up with his left hand and took something from the shelf. A long thin object wrapped in a white kitchen towel with a red border.

BOOK: The Abominable Man
11.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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