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The Man Who Went Up in Smoke: Book 2 Paperback – 27 September 2011
Hugely acclaimed, the Martin Beck series were the original Scandinavian crime novels and have inspired the writings of Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbo.
Written in the 1960s, 10 books completed in 10 years, they are the work of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö – a husband and wife team from Sweden. They follow the fortunes of the detective Martin Beck, whose enigmatic, taciturn character has inspired countless other policemen in crime fiction; without his creation Ian Rankin’s John Rebus or Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander may never have been conceived. The novels can be read separately, but are best read in chronological order, so the reader can follow the characters’ development and get drawn into the series as a whole.
‘The Man Who Went Up in Smoke’ starts as Martin Beck has just begun his holiday: an August spent with his family on a small island off the coast of Sweden. But when a neighbour gets a phone call, Beck finds himself packed off to Budapest, where a boorish journalist has vanished without a trace. Instead of passing leisurely sun-filled days with his children, Beck must troll about in the Eastern Europe underworld for a man nobody knows, with the aid of the coolly efficient local police, who do business while soaking at the public baths – and at the risk of vanishing along with his quarry.
‘They changed the genre. Whoever is writing crime fiction after these novels is inspired by them in one way or another.’ Henning Mankell
‘If you haven’t read Sjöwall/Wahlöö, start now.’ Sunday Telegraph
‘Pick up one book…and you become unhinged. You want to block out a week of your life, lie to your boss, and stay in bed, gorging on one after another.’ Observer
‘The writing is elegant and surprisingly humorous – if you haven’t come across Beck before, you’re in for a treat.’ Guardian
About the Author
- Publisher : 4th Estate GB (27 September 2011)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 288 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0007439121
- ISBN-13 : 978-0007439126
- Dimensions : 13 x 1.63 x 19.71 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 283,301 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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"There must be other policeman besides you. Do you have to take on every assignment?"
Occurring two years after the Roseanna investigation, Martin Beck is at odds with the language as he follows the trail behind the Iron Curtain with the Hungarian police force eschewing any attempts to share knowledge and highly suspicious of his motives for being there. Checking into the hotel of the missing man, and indeed into the room he was designated, Martin Beck learns that he disappeared on the day he arrived, leaving behind his luggage and his room key turning up on the steps of the local police department that very same day. Going through the motions, travelling to the place where he spent his first night, Martin Beck again takes one step forward and two back. Thanks to the erstwhile Kollberg whom he has patchy telephone contact with and some masterful eavesdropping on Alf Matsson's Swedish cronies, a glimmer of hope emerges, only to once again prove a dead end. However, the Hungarian police are circling closely and taking a keen interest as Martin Beck stumbles headlong into a even darker quagmire of international drug smuggling.
It is a morose Martin Beck who wanders the streets of Budapest and ponders just what he has taken on. As he brokers a fragile accord between his home nation and their counterparts is Hungary the results are once again down to more good fortune and arduous cross-referencing of facts than to the power of deduction. As painstakingly slow as the events of the Roseanna investigation, Martin Beck moves between meals times and bedtime as a sense of trust is fostered with the curious Major Vilmos Szluka of the Hungarian force. The result owes more to the unstinting slog and mundane work of fact checking, than to any spark of ingenuity and can be marked down to sheer determination and a thirst for the truth.
Published in 1966 one of the most topical aspects of The Man Who Went Up In Smoke was in furthering the discussion of drug smuggling into formerly capitalist countries via the Eastern bloc regions, largely because the authorities didn't think their was anything worth smuggling out of these regions! One of the most interesting facets of this case is the fact that something of a very similar nature did actually arise and the 'Wallenberg affair" referenced by the men from the foreign office is actually referring to the disappearance of Swedish architect, diplomat and humanitarian Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest in 1945. Whilst working as Sweden's special envoy in the later part of 1944, Wallenberg was accused of sheltering Jews and issuing protective passports and was subsequently detained by the KGB on suspicion of espionage.
Review written by Rachel Hall (@hallrachel)
In this, the second book of the series, Martin Beck finds himself sent to Budapest to make inquiries and find a missing Swedish journalist. As this is in pre-1970's communist Hungary there are obviously a few niceties that have to be observed involving the local secret police. The plot once it begins to unfold could be considered to be fairly obvious and based on the principle of Ockham's razor; in that the simplest explanation is the one that's correct. That's it for plot and spoilers.
Any reader of modern scandi-noir detective fiction will possibly regard these novels as a bit tame and possibly dated. However, they were the first, they are classics and when you've read one you really will want to read the other nine. A nice touch in the editions I've read is that after the story there is an appraisal, discussion and breakdown of the plot, background information about Wahloo & Sjowall and an interview with Maj Sjowall.
The book was originally written in 1966, and the production is set in that time. Martin Beck is just about to go on holiday when he is called in to investigate the disappearance of a journalist in Hungary. He travels to Budapest where things seem to get out of control and he suspects he is being tailed by the secret police. With the help of a friendly local policeman he starts to uncover a complicated story, while Kolberg back in Sweden starts to track down some interesting leads. Beck slowly works his way through the layers of obfuscation and red herrings to finally arrive at what is really a simple truth.
It's a nicely constructed adventure that intriguingly knocks down a few of the misconceptions of the time surrounding Hungary and provides an interesting puzzle for Beck to solve. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's not as dark as the Wallander books (didn't Wallander also go behind the iron curtain in his second book? I wonder just how influenced Mankell was by the Beck stories?) and Beck is less of a flawed human being than most modern noir detectives, making him a more sympathetic character and the story easier to get into.
The BBC production is, as usual, excellent. Mackintosh provides a considered performance, making the character thoughtful. We get to hear a lot more of the excellent Neil Pearson as Kolberg in this release, which is very welcome. The acting is generally pretty good, and the two narrative voices provide just the right tone with their dry, matter of fact statements. It's about an hour long, one episode on one disc. There are limited liner notes. In all an excellent production. 5 stars for this interesting and well produced mystery.
It's a plot that would become a staple of both the detective and spy genres, and it has the traditional plot development of the cops from both countries ultimately being united by their professionalism and devotion despite the cultural differences and different approaches. Yet it's unusual for a novel from that time to treat the police in a repressive nation that keeps rigorous tabs on all its citizens yet somehow let a visiting foreign journalist slip through the cracks as the cavalry rather than the villains. Not that there isn't much suspicion, paranoia and convincingly downbeat vignettes to remind you that Communist countries could be soul-destroying places, but it's balanced with the practicalities of solving a crime rather than scoring political or ideological points.
It's not one of the best of the series, perhaps because it takes Beck out of his environment when it had barely been established, perhaps because it limits his interaction with his regular colleagues to the occasional international phone call from his friend Lennart Kollberg. There's certainly a sense of a series trying to find its feet that tends to make this story, particularly in this adaptation, feel a bit of the odd one out, but it's a good enough mystery to keep you listening given good performances and an adaptation that, like the others in the series, makes good use of Lesley Sharp and Nicholas Gleaves' dual narrators recreating the authors' voices to fill in the narrative gaps and back story.