The second novel in Maj Sjowall’s and Per Wahloo’s Martin Beck series, The Man Who Went Up In Smoke takes one interesting plot twist and pads it out to novel length, creating a short read which feels a lot longer.
The Martin Beck series is set in the world of the homicide unit of the Stockholm police. Detective Martin Beck is the best man in the department, but the series refreshingly portrays police work as a team exercise instead of the work of a singular genius. Here as always Beck is assisted by a bevy of capabale, flawed officers, including the sarcastic Kollberg and meticulous Melander. The mood of the novels is dour and melancholy, the men who solve crimes are real people with real problems, ranging from the medical (Beck often has headaches and ulcers) to the emotional (most of the officers are in unhappy marriages.) Sjowall and Wahloo never miss an opportunity to darken the mood. In these novels, the weather is always dreary.
In The Man Who Went Up in Smoke Beck is called away from his island holiday to take on a sensitive investigation into a missing journalist. A Swedish magazine’s Eastern European expert has gone missing in Hungary, and there are no clues whatsoever.
The rest of the novel follows Beck’s journey to Budapest. The novel gets bogged down in his seemingly hopeless investigation, taking too long to get to anything that really matters to the overall story. In a nod to reality that never the less doesn’t exactly make for great fiction, the case essentially comes to him instead of anything he does leading to a break in the case.
That final revelation is an interesting twist, but left alone it is not enough to build a whole novel on.