The Fire Engine that Disappeared by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Original title: Brandbilen som försvann (1969). Spanish title: El coche de bomberos que desapareció. Translated by Martin Lexell and Manuel Abella, 2010. RBA Libros, S.A., 2010. Barcelona. 288 pages. ISBN: 978-84-9867-718-8
A couple of weeks ago I’ve decided to participate in the Scandinavian Reading Challenge 2010, hosted by Amy at The Black Sheep Dances. You can find more information here. The challenge objective is to read six books written by Scandinavian authors before the year end. My aim is to read only crime fiction, one at least from each Scandinavian country in a broad sense. That is to say Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland. With four books now in my TBR list it should not be all that difficult to achieve this goal.
Nordic crime writers are extremely popular today all over the world and Scandinavian crime fiction is synonym now-a-days of high quality books. There is probably no single reason which can explain their success but almost everybody agrees that, whatever the reasons, these are firmly rooted in a series of ten novels that were jointly written by a team of Swedish journalist, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, between the late Sixties and the early Seventies. Husband and wife in their private life their recognition arrived when The Laughing Policeman (Martin Beck # 4) was awarded the Edgar Prize for best crime fiction book in 1971.
The ten novels in the series were written from a clearly defined socialist point of view. The political events of that time, such as the Greek dictatorship and the Vietnam War, often show up in the plot as backdrop. Their intention, according to Wahlöö, was to “use the crime novel as a scalpel cutting open the belly of the ideological pauperized and morally debatable so-called welfare state of the bourgeois type.” It is still open to debate whether they succeeded or not. In any case they did succeed in the creation of one of the most interesting and wonderful series of crime novels ever. All Nordic crime fiction writers are in debt with them and crime writers all over the world had acknowledge their admiration for this series.
The Fire Engine that Disappeared was first published in Sweden in 1969. It is the fifth instalment featuring Martin Beck and his colleagues at the Central Bureau of Investigation in Stockholm. The book opens with a suicide note in which only the name of Martin Beck is written. Shortly after, a nearby apartment building that was under police observation explodes. The fire that follows kills three people. It was first explained as the consequence of a suicidal attempt by gas. But a forensic analysis unfolds that one of the bodies was already dead when the fire began. When Beck and his team investigate the circumstances behind this crime the principal suspect is found killed inside a drowned car and the time of his death is dated before the explosion.
The Fire Engine that Disappeared (Martin Beck # 5) is a first class police procedural. It is very well constructed and I’ve enjoyed it very much. So far I’ve already read the previous four books but I will definitively consider this one to be one of my favourites. My intention is to read the ten novels in chronological order as they are being published in Spanish at a rate of two each year by RBA Libros. This was the first one published in 2010 and the good news is that there are five more to come. Normally I don’t rate my readings but this book deserves the highest rating.