Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Man on the Balcony (Martin Beck, #3)The Man on the Balcony by Maj Sjöwall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"The very idea of militia comprises a far greater danger to society than any single criminal or gang. It paves the way for lynch mentality and arbitrary administration of justice. It throws the protective mechanism of society out of gear."

The Man on the Balcony (1967), the third novel in the Sjöwall and Wahlöö's acclaimed "Martin Beck" series of police procedurals, follows the excellent Roseanna , which I reviewed here two weeks ago, and The Man Who Went Up in Smoke, still waiting on my shelf.

The plot begins almost exactly 49 years ago, in early June of 1967 in Stockholm. Gunvald Larsson is handling the case of a mugger who brutally attacks women in city parks, but the attention of police force is diverted from that investigation when a body of a nine-year old girl - who has been sexually assaulted - is found in a park. Martin Beck heads the team of detectives and when another rape and murder of a young girl occurs virtually all of the Stockholm police force are involved in the case and the city residents are on a high alert. The investigation stalls until a connection with the mugger case is discovered, but even then the solution would not be found without Martin Beck's hunch: he finally remembers the thought the memory of which has been nagging him for several weeks.

Like Roseanna The Man on the Balcony is a riveting procedural, with most characters vividly drawn and full-bodied. The well-written interrogation scenes provide highlights for this captivating read. In addition to Beck, Kollberg, and Melander, all known from Roseanna, the cast of characters now includes Gunvald Larsson (who performs his trademark feat - using his body to force a locked door) and Einar Rönn. Also, the unforgettable duo of Kristiansson and Kvant of the Solna radio police make their appearance. On the negative side we have a lamely didactic passage about shortage of police officers and some baloney about "profiling".

This is my return to the novel that I read for the first time over 30 years ago and while it is a really good procedural I am most impressed by the quote - shown in the epigraph - about the evils of citizens' militia, a view that I unreservedly subscribe to. I also like the fragment (shown below) about disarming the police force: how I would love to live in a society where police would not carry weapons! These two passages are the main reason that I am eventually rounding my half-way rating up.

Three and a half stars.

"Kollberg was unarmed. Even with the growing gangster mentality and the steadily increasing brutality of crime, he was one of those who urged that the police should be disarmed entirely, and nowadays he carried a pistol only in case of extreme need and then only when directly ordered to do so."

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