Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Terrorists (Martin Beck, #10)The Terrorists by Maj Sjöwall
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"[...] the police as an organization devoted itself to terrorizing mainly two categories of people, socialists and people who couldn't make it in our class society."

What a major disappointment! The Terrorists (1975), the tenth and last installment in perhaps the best ever series of police procedurals, the so-called Martin Beck series, is the weakest of them all. It is also the longest, 347 pages, which is about 200 pages too many. I am wondering whether the death of one of the authors (Per Wahlöö died the year that the book was published) played any role in the failure. Or maybe the authors did finish the book together, and the shortcomings are just caused by burnout?

Three interconnected threads combine to form the plot. The novel begins with Gunvald Larsson traveling to a South American country to study the newest anti-terrorist measures. The measures dramatically fail: Mr. Larsson gets his custom-made suit ruined by a rather unusual object falling into his lap and has an opportunity to learn how not to prepare security for a state visit. Meanwhile in Stockholm, when a young woman attempts to hold up a bank, she is quickly apprehended, and we follow the robbery case moving through the justice system to quite an unexpected resolution. In yet another thread an assassin kills a porn film director: Martin Beck quickly solves the case, just in time to be appointed the head of an anti-terrorist task force. The group that includes Larsson, Rönn, Melander, and Skacke is responsible for ensuring security during the Stockholm visit of an extremely unpopular American senator. This strand of the plot stays with us to the very end as we follow the good guys' fight to prevent the highly dangerous ULAG terrorist group from carrying out their assassination plan.

The authors attempt to repeat the success of previous books in the series and quite miserably fail. The novel is full of clichés and rehashes stuff from the previous novels. We learn nothing new about any of the characters and everything is exactly as the reader may expect it. Larsson picks his teeth with a letter opener, Bulldozer Olsson's clothing is rumpled, Beck's intuition is phenomenal. Sky is blue, water is wet, fire is hot. The writing or perhaps the translation are less than stellar in many passages, and some conversations sound preposterous.

The authors use, twice, grossly implausible coincidences to move the plot. The social critique and diagnoses, so acute and fresh in several previous novels, sound immature and superficial. The humor is mostly of burlesque quality, way over-the-top, although the passage about an uneaten head of a dachshund is quite funny and the following graphic quote stays in memory:
"Smoking pillars of fire were rising to a height of a hundred and fifty feet. Atop the flaming pillars were diverse objects [...] half a horse with black and yellow plumes in the band round its forehead, a leg in a black boot and green uniform material, and an arm with a long cigar between the fingers."
Perhaps the most puzzling is the authors' obsession with nipples. True, these are truly wonderful body parts both for the babies and for the grown-ups, but do we really need to read FOUR times that Rhea's nipples are big?

Two stars.

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