She was young and he was sure that she had been pretty. She must have had someone who loved her. Someone close to her who was wondering what had happened to her. She must have had friends, colleagues, parents, maybe sisters and brothers. No human being, particularly a young , attractive woman, is so alone that there is no one to miss her when she disappears.

Roseanna, by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, is the first of ten books by this couple featuring Martin Beck, chief of the Homicide squad in Stockholm. It was originally published in Sweden in 1965 and is translated by Lois Roth.

One summer day the naked body of a young woman is found by chance in Lake Vättern. No one seems to know who she is or how she came to be there. After three months the police are able to identify her as Roseanna McGraw, a Nebraskan librarian on vacation, but it takes ingenuity, unconventional methods, and luck both good and bad before the crime is finally solved.

The back of the book calls it a “masterpiece of suspense and sadness,” and I found the latter part especially to be true. This is not a case of getting vengeance for the living but rather vengeance for the dead. Martin Beck is haunted by Roseanna’s death, feeling that closure can not be obtained until the killer is found, even when the case seems to have no leads. In this he finds a kindred spirit Ahlberg, the Inspector of the town where the body was found. Even I was affected by this atmosphere. At one point they are looking at photos of Roseanna taken just hours before she died, and you can’t help but be struck by the fragility of life and the crime of ending it.

Martin Beck himself is a slightly pathetic figure. Both the subway commute and coffee make him feel sick and yet he finds he can’t avoid either. He allows the case to consume him, perhaps as an excuse to avoid going home. I was a little surprised that a couple would write of such an empty family life, where everything has become routine and Martin seems to feel little affection for his wife and two children. His wife tries to take care of him but it ends up more like nagging. Sometimes it seems as if Martin cares more about the dead woman than her.

To me there were almost two ways of looking at this book, both interesting. It is a Swedish police procedural with surprisingly little difference from British or American mysteries. On the other hand, it is the story of an American woman killed far from home in a foreign land. The detective in her home town must rely on telegrams sent to and from Beck. I couldn’t help thinking, what if I were to go abroad and meet with some tragedy? How would anyone at home even know?

I’ll have to keep an eye out for the rest of the series, as the library only had a couple others. By the way I’m really impressed with the imprint of this, which is Vintage Crime/Black Lizard (a subdivision of Random House). From their website it looks like they have a mix of classic, modern, and international mystery writers. The book itself is also very good quality, with thick covers and creamy pages.

This is another one for the Lost in Translation Challenge but found completely at random–I was getting a mystery from a nearly library shelf and noticed the foreign names!

Published in: on September 3, 2009 at 12:07 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. […] Roseanna, by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö (Swedish) […]

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