The Fire Engine that Disappeared by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

el-coche-de-bomberos-que-desaparecio_maj-sjowall-per-whaloo_libro-OAFI385TFETD 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.

th_scandinaviamap-1 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.


Maj Sjöwall

Per Wahlöö

Barnes & Noble

Fantastic Fiction

Scandinavian Crime Fiction

Scandinavian Books


Euro Crime

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16 thoughts on “The Fire Engine that Disappeared by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö”

  1. >I agree this is one of my favourites in the ten book series of which I have read eight over a period of about thirty years. I still have 6 and 7 to read due to the eccentric English publishing of the titles.

  2. >Jose, Fantastic review! Any chance this is available in English? I'd love to find it on Bookmooch but it appears impossible.And thanks for the blog about the Scandinavian Challenge.

  3. >Lovely article and review, Jose. I loved this book, too. Amy – yes the books are in English and I recommend the Harper Perennial editions as most of them have a very good foreward by a modern writer (eg Michael Connelly) about how these authors influenced them and their writing.Jose – it is interesting as you say that these authors are so critical of the welfare state, and in later books, of the "police state" as they put it. The policeforce in Sweden was reorganised during the period the books are set, and the authors are very sarcastic about this. Although I am sure there is truth in their criticisms, I wonder what is a better system? They may have thought Yugoslavia, but look what happened to that country a few years after the last Martin Beck novel was written?I have now read the first nine of these and I am holding back from reading the tenth as it is the last one and I will be sad to finish it. It was Norman of Crime Scraps (Uriah Robinson above) from whom I found out about these authors (and Camilleri, Carlotto and Vargas) and I'm very grateful indeed to him!

  4. >Maxine – As a matter of fact I discovered Sjöwall and Wahlöö in a reference from Camilleri's August Heath about a year ago and it`s funny to find out that The Fine Engine has a reference to Raymond Chandler. You are also probably right about Yugoslavia. It was a popular idea around 1968 when I was at the University.

  5. >This is also one of my favourites in the series! And it is so funny that a child´s toy plays an important role near the ending.

  6. >Hi Ignacio, I allow myself in suggesting 2 books for your Scandinavian challenge: the Peter Høeg, Smilla's sense of snow (perhaps pioneer of the Scandinavian thriller saga) and one of Wallander I liked very much: One step ahead.Did you read them already?

  7. >Interesting to see your recommendation of Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow, Nela. I read this many years ago when it first came out, and have kept my copy to read again one day. I am thinking I'll do that quite soon. I loved the book but thought it completely "lost it" in the last section. I've read a couple of the author's subsequent books but was rather disappointed in them.

  8. >Nela thanks for your suggestions.I've not read Peter Høeg before and I will have a look at him even if I don't read him for this challenge. I've already read all the Wallander saga and I did like also One Step Ahead.

  9. >i've added this one to my TBR list for the Scandinavian Challenge! Thank you for the great review and suggestion. I had also added the book Smilla's Sense of Snow a few days ago, actually requesting it from paperback swap ~ that's really cool someone else suggested it too! With all these fantastic, amazing suggestions I will be able to meet the Scandinavian Challenge & the Orbis Terrarum Challenge with no problem!

  10. >Thanks so much for your review! I love this series, although I've only made it as far as Roseanna and The Man Who Went Up in Smoke. In fact, it was these authors who got me started in my reading of Scandinavian Crime fiction. Now I'm so busy reading the others I haven't returned to the original sources – so thanks for reminding me!

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