Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Man on the Balcony: Review

The Man on the Balcony by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö starts out with what seems to be a crank call. An elderly woman phones the police to complain about a "nasty" man who stands on his own balcony for hours at a time--just staring at the traffic and the children at play in the streets below. Before long that call is forgotten as the Stockholm police are confronted with a child-killer. Someone is stalking young girls (average age of ten) and then molesting and killing them in the city's parks. There are few clues to be had for Superintendent Martin Beck and his colleagues and soon the city's residents are putting together civil guards to watch their children at play. Everyone is on edge with the undercurrent of fear affecting even the police. Beck has two witnesses: a mugger who doesn't really want to cooperate and a three-year-old boy who can't tell all he knows. But will they tell the police enough to lead them to the killer?

This was a really difficult read for me. Not difficult like my previous book, Intruder in the Dust, was difficult--thankfully, there is no stream of consciousness here. And not difficult in the writing style--I sailed right through the the story. It wasn't over my head. No, what was hard was the subject matter. I have a very difficult time reading stories that involve children being murdered, abused, or harmed in any way. The only thing that helped me overcome the subject was the deft manner in which it was handled. The writing is clear and simple and it carries the reader straight through the action. The deaths are described in such a way that you feel the horror of the situation without being immersed in it. It also helps that
Sjöwalll and Wahlöö write such a good police procedural. You are concentrating on the policemen and their methods far more than on horrible crimes--which for me is a good thing.

Overall, my enjoyment of the writing, the characters, and the story itself far outweighed any squeamishness on my part to read about child-murder. Four stars out of five.


Shirley said...

At first I was interested in this book, as you were, then I changed my mind when after reading of the crimes against children. It is a saving grace that the author handled it in such a manner, but I still don't think it is one I would pick up. Thanks for the review Bev.

Bev Hankins said...

@Shirley: This isn't a book that I would have chosen for myself. One of my friends from work (knowing my love of mysteries) gave this to me as a get-well gift. (Apparently Sjöwalll and Wahlöö are favorites of his) Otherwise, I probably wouldn't have given it a try....and if it had been as brutal as some of them out there I wouldn't have finished it.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear -- sorry Bev, I completely forgot about the brutal-death-of-children aspect of that one. I guess I'm just a cold bastard :) Glad you still found something to enjoy in it. Anyway, don't be scared off other Wahloo and Sjowall novels, none of the others ones I've read have that quality. "The Laughing Policeman" is probably their most famous and is not gruesome (well, a bunch of people are killed on a bus, but none are kids). For those that don't know, these are Swedish mysteries written from 1965-75 or so by a husband and wife team -- a huge influence on people like Henning Mankell and other contemporary Nordic thriller/mystery authors... -Ivan