The Locked Room (1972) by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö
The eighth installment of this series finds Martin Beck just returning to work after a life-threatening encounter with a bullet. His colleagues are trying to put a stop to an outbreak of robberies--primarily bank robberies, but robberies of all sorts have taken over Stockholm. Most recently, a young woman walked into a bank, wound up with 87 thousand kroner, and shot a man who tried to stop her. Witnesses' accounts conflict (don't they always?)--she had several different outfits; she got into a blue car or a beige one--no, wait she didn't get in a car at all; she had accomplices waiting for her or maybe she just drove off/walked away alone. Who knows? The head of the bank robbery investigations--District Attorney "Bulldozer" Olsson soon decides it's one of a string of robberies planned by criminal mastermind Werner Roos. According to Bulldozer, Roos is planning a BIG robbery--his biggest yet--and the DA is adamant that they're going to get him this time.
A hot lead to Roos's plans practically falls into Bulldozer's lap, but will he and his team be able to use it to their advantage (Spoiler Alert---that's a big no). Meanwhile, Beck is handed an impossible crime to solve. The body of Karl Edvin Svard was found shot to death (after several weeks) behind the quadruple-locked door of his apartment. All the windows were shaded, unbroken, and locked as well. The local officers quickly filed it under suicide--but the case is handed over to Beck because things don't quite add up. For one thing, if the man shot himself, where is the gun? In an odd little twist, it's found in the most interesting place...Beck will, of course, figure it all out. But will he be able to prove it? And what about those bank robberies?
I'm having a difficult time deciding what I think of this one. It is both entertaining (in a Keystone Cops kind of way) to read about the absolutely inept handling of the bank robbery investigations by Bulldozer and his special team and depressing to see how little justice and correct police procedure ultimately figure in this story.
Seriously, if you can read the scene where Larsson and Kollberg and company bust into the room where they believe two of the bank robbers are holed up and Larsson winds up hanging out the window, one of the nervous uniformed officers shoots the lights out (literally) as well as hitting a hot water pipe (insert image of spraying hot water pipe), the police attack dog bites one of the officers and refuses to let go, and--as a grand finale--one of them tosses in some tear gas...and you don't laugh, then I guess you just don't like physical humor. It's slapstick straight from the era of silent film. And, of course, the bad guys aren't even there anymore. And the crackerjack band hot on the trail of the bank robbers don't get any better. Just wait till they screw up the intelligence they receive on the upcoming BIG bank job.
So, entertaining? Yes, indeed. And the locked room mystery is pretty good as well. Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö use an old trick to good effect and there's enough going on to distract most readers from seeing it until Beck finds the answer.
But...then there's the actual police investigations--breaking and entering for evidence; the whole Bulldozer fiasco; Beck not being sure his taping equipment is working properly (though--Beck comes through the best in this book). And there's all sorts of shady goings-on among the police. Not to mention that at the end of the book, Beck's superiors decide not to promote him (there had been rumors) and why? Because they think he's unbalanced. Now--just to be clear, Beck doesn't want to be promoted. He wants to keep on investigating crimes and not be kicked up to a desk job. [And he's definitely not unbalanced--he's probably the best detective they've got.] But, let's just suppose that Beck really is unbalanced. His superiors think it's better to keep an unbalanced Beck where he is--investigating crimes and dealing with the public?! There's some fine bureaucratic thinking for you... I know that this sort of thing happens in real life--but I'm not all that keen on my fiction being so realistic. I like the wheels of justice to run smooth in my detective stories.
On balance, this is a solid story. I enjoyed the mystery and I especially enjoyed the slapstick antics and Martin Beck's portion of the plot. If it hadn't been for the (to me) depressing realism of how justice (and the police) really works, I would probably rate it higher. ★★★
First line: The bells of St. Maria struck two as she came out from the subway station on Wollmar Yxkullsgatan.
Last lines: Someone must know. Who?
Deaths = two shot