Murder at the Savoy- The Martin Beck Series
Authors: Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall(Swedish writers)
Original title: Polis, Polis, Potatismos! (literal meaning “Police, Police, Potato Pig!”)
Genre- Crime fiction / Translated works
Publisher- Norstedts Förlag (Swedish)/Pantheon Books
Published in English-1971
Murder at the Savoy is a 1970 crime novel by Swedish writers Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. It is the sixth book out of ten in the detective series revolving around police detective Martin Beck.
Viktor Palmgren, a wealthy and powerful industrialist, is shot while delivering a post-dinner speech in the Savoy Hotel in the small coastal town of Malmö. Palmgren lands face down in his dinner with the bullet lodged beneath his ear.
The clues are worthless and scattered; the police have little to go on. There are suspects everywhere—a promiscuous trophy wife, an ambitious partner, corrupt, sleazy associates, and unknown enemies.
Police inspector Martin Beck is recruited to solve the case because of mounting political pressure and suspected far-reaching international connections.
The book lingers in the police officers’ personal space as much as it does on the murder investigations. It’s fast-moving, slick paced, and reads almost like a movie. The readers gain an insight into the detectives’ minds. They are cognizant of the chaos rustled up by lying witnesses with malicious intents and dubious motives.
There are neither red herrings nor collateral plots to distract. The denouement does not shock. You dog the detective’s footsteps as a reader, unearthing clues and tracking witnesses.
I savored the varied hues—the assortment of mannerisms and temperament Sjöwall and Wahlöö portray in their police officers. Martin Beck, the indomitable, intuitive inspector, is a quintessential tough guy—strong, silent, and self-contained. He is assisted by the young and ambitious junior, Benny Skacke, and an old-school, methodical associate, Gunvald Larsson.
There are no main characters, and all the officers get their spot in the sun. The working environment is multilayered and realistic, reminiscent of a regular office milieu—egos get bruised, tempers flare, and jealousy is rampant.
It speaks of an era when there were no mobile phones, DNA samples, internet, or modern gadgets. And the investigation depends on patient, persistent, and solid police procedures.
Some of the outstanding moments of the book are its interrogation scenes—a cross-questioning sequence involving the detectives and an incorrigible, high-class hooker is top-notch.
Sjöwall and Wahlöö relish making tongue-in-cheek remarks about the police system and even throw in multiple satirical anecdotes of police affairs. The book borrows its title from one such chucklesome sketch where sloppy police officers botch the case beyond repair.
The writers make insightful remarks about corruption, exploitation, and misuse of the police workforce. Though the book was written in 1970, it doesn’t seem much has changed in many countries since then.
The book made me google the writers, and I was as impressed as ever.
Apparently, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö—a husband-wife team wrote these books together, sometimes throughout the night. They would then swap the chapters—typing and editing each other’s narrative. This incredible writing exercise produced international bestsellers year after year, with books made into films and adapted for television.
Any crime-writer of our generation, worth their salt, is a massive admirer of Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s fiction.
I already have my next Martin Beck lined up. What about you?
P.S- on a secondary note, I am secretly glad to write this review rather than recommend it in person. The tongue-twister of pronunciation of Swedish names and addresses is not meant to be attempted by the faint-hearted.