Roseanna

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

The masterful first novel in the Martin Beck - one of the Hound's greatest crime fighters - series of mysteries by the internationally renowned crime writing duo Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, writers who laid the groundwork for modern Swedish crime fiction.

 

Martin Beck is hunting for the murderer of a lonely traveler.

 

On a July afternoon, a young woman's body is dredged from Sweden's beautiful Lake Vattern. With no clues Beck begins an investigation not only to uncover a murderer but also to discover who the victim was. Three months later, all Beck knows is that her name was Roseanna and that she could have been strangled by any one of eighty-five people on a cruise. As the melancholic Beck narrows the list of suspects, he is drawn increasingly to the enigma of the victim, a free-spirited traveler with a penchant for casual sex, and to the psychopathology of a murderer with a distinctive - indeed, terrifying - sense of propriety.

When the body appears in the dredging bucket, no-one seems to be able to identify her. The woman’s description doesn’t match that of any missing person, and there’s no identification on the body. Stockholm homicide investigator Martin Beck and his team-mates Kollberg and Melander go to Motala, where the investigation is centered, and begin working to identify the woman and find out who killed her and why.

With patient, thorough police work, the team finds out that the victim’s name was Roseanna McGraw, and that she was a visitor to Sweden from the United States. Slowly, over the next several months, the team finds out the kind of person she was, why she was visiting Sweden, and how she came to meet her killer.

One of the most important elements in this novel is the realistic depiction of the patient, sometimes difficult work that’s involved in solving a murder, especially the murder of an unidentified person. The novel takes place before the days of DNA testing, electronic communication and other modern technology, so there’s a real emphasis on interviews, photographs and coroner and police reports. We follow Beck and the team as they narrow down the myriad possibilities to one cruise ship – the ship on which Roseanna was traveling. Then, we “listen in” as passengers and crew members are interviewed. At the same time, we follow a parallel investigation in Lincoln, Nebraska, where the missing Roseanna McGraw lived. Throughout the investigation, we’re privy to the long hours, frustrations and painstaking work that go into solving this kind of crime. In this sense, Roseanna is a clear example of the police procedural, with a real focus on what police do to solve cases. The novel isn’t a thriller – most police work isn’t like that. Instead, it’s a “behind-the-scenes” portrayal of a police unit at work.Another element that runs through the novel is the slowly unfolding character of Roseanna McGraw. At the beginning of the novel, she doesn’t exist yet as a personality. But bit by bit, as Martin Beck and his team gather the threads of their case, we learn more and more about her.

Teamwork also plays an important role in this novel. The case is not solved by Martin Beck’s brilliant ideas alone (although he is a highly talented and intuitive investigator). Instead, he, Kollberg, Melander, Detective Sonja Hansson and Inspector Ahlberg from Motala work together with Detective Kafka from Lincoln, Nebraska. They pool their resources and talents and it’s really their combined efforts that catch the killer. In this use of teamwork, the novel is quite realistic. In real life, it’s rarely only one police detective who has all of the good ideas and does all of the work. Almost always, police work together, especially on a difficult, complicated murder case like this one.The character of Martin Beck himself is another important thread in this novel. Many people have argued that he’s the forerunner of several modern Swedish detectives: hard-working, somewhat pessimistic, dedicated to his job and with a less-than-perfect home life. In those senses, Beck is similar to Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander and other Swedish detectives (although of course, there are differences among them). Beck’s haunted by Roseanna McGraw’s murder, and is obsessed with finding her killer.

The sense of place is also an important element in this novel. As the detectives pursue the leads, interview witnesses and slowly put the pieces of the puzzle together, we get a sense of what Stockholm, Motala, Gothenburg and other places in Sweden are like. Sjöwall and Wahlöö place the reader unmistakably, and although it may sound trite, one really can say that the place and its climate almost become characters in the novel.Roseanna is first and foremost a police procedural that focuses on what the police do to solve their cases, and how they go about it. It’s also, in many ways, the forerunner of more modern Swedish crime fiction, tied together with a flawed, complex, but highly talented lead detective, teamwork, a sense of place and the gradually evolving character of the victim.

Review by Margot Kinberg, Confessions of a Mystery Writer

About Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö:

Swedish authors Sjöwall and Wahlöö had a 13 year relationship, as writers and lovers,  which lasted until his death in 1975. 

They are regarded as the godparents of modern Scandinavian crime fiction. 

They wrote a series of ten novels about the exploits of Martin Beck, a police detective in Stockholm. In 1971, the fourth of these books, The Laughing Policeman (a translation of Den skrattande polisen, originally published in 1968) won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Novel.

They also wrote novels separately.

 

 

Roseanna begins with the discovery one summer day of the strangled body of a young woman during a dredging operation in Lake Vättern.