Monday, April 9, 2012

The Fire Engine That Disappeared: Review


So...there isn't just one fire engine that disappears, but two. The fifth book in the Martin Beck series by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö finds a great deal going on in Stockholm. It all begins with the suicide of a man whose only farewell note consists of two words: Martin Beck scribbled on a notepad by his bed. Beck has never heard of the man and, as there is no doubt about the circumstances of his death, he promptly forgets about him. Not long after his colleague, Gunvald Larsson is headed home for the night--with no plans at all for becoming a hero. He stops on his way to check on a stake-out that he has organized and when he finds his man freezing at his post he takes over long enough for the officer to take a half hour break to warm up and get some coffee inside him.

He never expects the apartment house to explode in flames before his eyes. Before the night is over, he will be rescue eight of the eleven people inside and be proclaimed a hero--particularly because the fire department was so unreasonable slow in responding. But Malms, the man they had been assigned to watch, is dead and the methods are unclear. An autopsy reveals that the man died of carbon monoxide poisoning--apparently a suicide. A suicide who just barely cheated his murderer of the chance to take his life--for lodged in his bed had been the source of the blaze...a tiny chemical explosive.

It has been assumed that Malms was a small-time operator in the world of drugs and car theft and the hunt is on to find his contact, Olofsson. Olofsson has been missing for some months and every trail seems to lead to a dead end. The trail will lead to Malm
ö, Denmark, and even to contacts in Interpol before Beck and his team finally get to the bottom of who planted the bomb in Malms' bed.

Oh...and the title? R
önn, another of Beck's team, buys his son a spiffy red fire engine for his birthday. Within a couple of days the boy has managed to lose it--without having left his apartment. It is...the mystery of the fire engine that disappeared. And when Rönn mentions it to Beck and Larsson, they are reminded of another fire engine that disappeared on the night of the fire. A fire engine that was supposedly on its way within minutes of the explosion, but didn't arrive. That clue sets the team on most informative track.

A fast-paced police procedural with a realistic view of police work. You have a hodge-podge of various character types--some of whom definitely don't like each other--who manage to work together and get the job done. Just as in real life, I can't say I like all these men. But it's obvious that they know their jobs and they each have their specialty.
Sjöwall and Wahlöö have also begun to show the police as having more than one case going on at a time. In many of the books prior to this (by other authors), you would think that when Lord So-and-So gets murdered that all the burglars and other criminals take a holiday while the police force concentrate on just one crime. Or...if any other crimes do occur then they naturally wind up being part of the overall mystery. Not so here--or in real life.

Not quite as un-putdownable as The Man on the Balcony (the best
Sjöwall and Wahlöö that I've read so far), but a fairly intricate mystery that holds you till the end. Three stars.

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