Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Martin Beck

Go To

Martin Beck, or, alternatively, The Story of a Crime, is a series of 10 Nordic Noir mystery novels by the couple of Swedish authors and journalists, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, about the exploits of a titular detective, the head of the Special Homicide Commission in the Stockholm Police Department. They are notable for spurring the whole genre, and being one of the first representatives of the new wave of crime and mystery fiction that took the genre from the drawing rooms of the high society into the often dark and gritty world of Police Procedurals filled by realistic culprits and equally believable Defective Detectives.

The series, written almost in real time with its internal timeline between 1965 and 1975, chronicle the progress of titular Martin Beck from a middle-aged, disillusioned, dyspeptic and disappointed with his marriage detective to a still disillusioned (but at least more personally happy) Police Commissioner, who is finally resigned to see the Swedish welfare-state sliding through the dehumanising slippery slope of capitalism to the unpleasant end — both Sjöwall and Wahlöö were staunch Marxists, and conceived the novels as much as a social critique as entertainment, though the message is weaved in quite subtly, without it becoming Anvilicious.

All of the novels were put to screen at least once, and between 1997 and 2016 34 made-for-TV movies were made, that only used the names of the main characters from the novels. The novels remain one of the finest example of the Nordic Noir, inspiring such followers as Henning Mankell's Wallander series and Stig Larsson's The Millennium Trilogy. They are still very much in print and widely translated into many languages, which, ironically, meant that the one surviving coauthor, Maj Sjöwall,note  has never made money on them, because they still are printed according to the original, not very profitable, deal with their publisher.

    open/close all folders 
    Novels featuring Martin Beck 
  • Roseanna (Roseanna) (1965)
  • The Man Who Went Up in Smoke (Mannen som gick upp i rök) (1966)
  • The Man on the Balcony (Mannen på balkongen) (1967)
  • The Laughing Policeman (Den skrattande polisen) (1968)
  • The Fire Engine That Disappeared (Brandbilen som försvann) (1969)
  • Murder at the Savoy (Polis, polis, potatismos!) (1970)
  • The Abominable Man (Den vedervärdige mannen från Säffle) (1971)
  • The Locked Room (Det slutna rummet) (1972)
  • Cop Killer (Polismördaren) (1974)
  • The Terrorists (Terroristerna) (1975)

This series contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: Åsa Torell, Åke Stenström's widow, who joins the Beck's team in the later part of the series.
  • Adapted Out: Kollberg in the TV series, despite being Beck's closest friend in the novels.
  • Almost Dead Guy: In The Laughing Policeman, one of the bus passengers survives for a day or so in the hospital, and lives only long enough to give garbled answers to two questions asked by Ronn. "Who did the shooting?" and "What did he look like?" The dying man's answers are "Dnrk" and "Koleson." After re-listening to the tape of the interview several times, at different speeds, the detectives figure out that he was trying to say "didn't recognize" and "like Oleson", with Oleson being one of his coworkers who bore some resemblance to the killer.
  • Author Tract: Subverted, as the novels indeed were conceived as a social critique, but managed to avoid becoming didactic.
  • Bait-and-Switch: In The Laughing Policeman Beck is initially frightened that Kolberg is the policeman who was among those murdered when he calls his house and Kolberg's wife says he's out and she doesn't know where. He is relieved when he runs into Kolberg shortly after arriving at the crime scene.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed:
    • The culprits in The Man on the Balcony and The Laughing Policemen both try to commit suicide after being caught rather than face prison, public disgrace, and the potential loss of their respective loved ones' affection. Both times, the detectives stop them (with considerably less sympathy in the latter book, given the greater magnitude of that killer's crimes).
    • In The Fire Engine that Disappeared, a Professional Killer is sent to murder three criminals over a bit of Blackmail Backfire. He kills his first target easily, but that man's disappearance and the way the assassin is conspicuously looking for them make the other two men commit suicide rather than wait to die. Unfortunately, the assassin doesn't learn of the second man's death before setting off a fire bomb at the man's apartment, killing three other people.
  • Big Eater: Kollberg, who is repeatedly described as a glutton.
  • The Big Guy: A position jointly held by Beck's closest friend, Lennart Kollberg, a former paratrooper with large stature and supreme shooting skills (though he refuses to carry a gun now), and his second-in-command Gunvald Larsson, an ex-merchant Captain and the strongest guy in the team.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: The defense lawyer for Rebecca Lund in the final book is a sometimes long-winded man who keeps forgetting his client’s name, even though he does care a lot about doing the right thing for her. However, he is also skilled at researching the background for a case and making strong arguments to discredit incorrect prosecution theories.
  • The Bus Came Back: The killers from the first two books both reappear in Cop Killer, having gotten out of jail and kept out of trouble since.
  • Butt-Monkey:
    • Benny Skacke is introduced as an ambitious, but very hapless newcomer, though he matures quite a bit by The Terrorists.
    • Karl Kristiansson and Kurt Kvant, two equally hapless patrolmen from Skåne, who always screw something up. After Kvant is killed mid-series, his replacement, Kennet Kvastmo, is even worse, because not only he's equally dumb, he's also far more zealous.
  • Consulting a Convicted Killer: The detectives question Birgersson (a man who killed his wife and is being mentally evaluated) a few times in "The Laughing Policeman" with the knowledge he has been related to some car expertise.
  • Contrived Coincidence: In the multiple books, key breaks in the case come when lower-ranking cops encounter witnesses or guilty suspects completely by chance while going about their daily lives and not thinking about the case.
  • Daddy's Girl: Beck's daughter Ingrid, a Wise Beyond Their Years teenager with whom he's actually keeping a close and equal friendship.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Beck's family life in the first half of the series. He and his wife Inga just barely tolerate each other, and he's thoroughly alienated from his son Rolf. The only close person to him is his daughter Ingrid.
  • Everybody Smokes: But of course — it's a cop series from The '60s, after all. Though Beck at least quits mid-series, on a doctor's orders after he's injured, and because his favorite brand is discontinued.
  • Father Neptune: Played with Larsson in the novels, who is a former sailor and Big Guy of the team, but is actually a scion of a rich family, who rebelled against their staid lifestyle, but still likes his creature comforts pretty much. Larsson of the TV series is a different person altogether.
  • The Fettered: Most of the Homicide Commission, who are all given to doing The Right Thing, at least as they understand it.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Beck and Kollberg.
  • In Name Only: The 1997-2016 series, that only took the names of Beck and Larsson from the novels, and even managed to Adapt Out Lennart Kollberg, despite the latter being the virtual alter-ego of Beck.
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: The end of The Laughing Policeman has Beck talking about how their murdered colleague did a good job, but also showed himself to still be green by not leaving behind any records about the man he was investigating in case he got killed. They then get a phone call from another detective who reports that someone -belatedly checked under the dead detectives blotter and found that he did have some notes on the case, including the name of the murderer with a question mark by it. This is the incident which causes Beck to have an "Everybody Laughs" Ending, from which the title comes from.
  • It's All About Me: The killer in The Laughing Policeman. While he does have "unusually much much to lose" the man shows no remorse about killing a lot of innocents just to cover his own tracks and keeps ranting about being entitled to the actions he took, and bitterly blaming the police for the effect it will have on him and his family. Larsson, who takes the man's confession, is decidedly unimpressed.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Beck himself, who is already completely disillusioned about the Swedish society by the first novels, but still strives to protect its people.
  • Needle in a Stack of Needles: Laughing Policeman. The murderer shot his former henchman, the detective and seven bystanders deliberately to throw the police off. In addition, the old case being re-investigated is full of false leads, and the detectives find the murderer in the old case files only after the confession. Ironically, he was a respectable businessman who first organized murdering his ex-lover, then covered the tracks — all to protect the well-being of his family.
  • Non-Protagonist Resolver: Those Two Guys Kvant and Kristiansson (who are complete screw-ups in their later appearances) first appear in the final chapter of the third book, where they, and not any of the main detectives encounter and arrest that book's pedophiliac killer Big Bad after recognizing him when they park near where he is isolating his next planned victim so that Kvant can pee behind some bushes.
  • Parent with New Paramour: Type one, as Ingrid is perfectly okay with her father's relationship with Rhea Nielsen, and actually actively encouraged Beck to divorce her mother even before they met. As for Rolf Beck — well, there's little love lost between father and son anyway.
  • Retired Monster: in Cop Killer, the perpetrator of the murder and posthumous rape of the victim from the first book reappears, having gotten out of prison and become a suspect in another murder (of which he is innocent). He never shows any regret for what he did and admits to still having darkly misogynistic thoughts about women, but those thoughts are less frequent and less consuming than before and he maintains a pleasant life selling smoked fish and keeping to himself.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Åke Stenström, a young and ambitious detective who gets killed mid-series in a random spree shooting, starting arguably the best-known book of the series, The Laughing Policeman.
  • Those Two Guys: Kristiansson and Kvant, later Kvastmo are bumbling close companions with K names.
  • Toilet Humor: Quite literally — a Running Gag throughout the series is that Fredrik Melander, one of the team's detectives, is always in the loo whenever someone needs him.
  • Villain Killer: Detective Benny Skacke kills the main villains of both the fifth and tenth books — the only two main villains to die by violence — in gunfights.
  • Wardrobe Wound: Detective Gunvald Larsson often gets his suits ruined.
  • Who Murdered the Asshole:
    • As The Man Who Went Up in Smoke progresses, it becomes clear that the victim was a heroin dealer who also loved antagonizing his peers by insulting them in deeply personal ways.
    • The murder victim in Murder at the Savoy is a Corrupt Corporate Executive who sold arms to dangerous countries, had unaffectionate relationships with many members of his inner circle, and destroyed the lives of many of his employees due to his greed.
    • The eponymous victim in The Abominable Man is a policemen notorious for his callousness and brutality towards trainees and unlucky civilians, with many angry complaints against him and far more enemies than friends.
    • The victim in a subplot in The Terrorists is a tax-cheating, drug-using pornographer who got teenaged girls too high to understand that they were agreeing to appear in his movies, causing many people to loathe him.