The Man Who Went Up in Smoke (1966), second of the ten Martin Beck novels, takes Beck to Budapest to look for a missing Swedish journalist. His reflections on arrival are potted history and travel-guide boilerplate, the only time I have been tempted to skim rather than read Sjöwall and Wahlöö. Apologists might call the flat prose a comment on Beck's alienation or on the economics of tourism, but that would be out of character for Beck, who we are told enjoys travelling. Besides, alienation ought not to alienate the reader.
In any case, the bad bits were brief distractions, paling next to Sjöwall and Wahlöö's compelling portrayal of Beck's feeling at a loss in a country about which he knows little, whose language he cannot speak, investigating a case as baffling as the novel's title.
But that's a distraction from the day's question: What have your favorite writers tried that did not work?
Mankell has acknowledged Sjöwall and Wahlöö's formative influence on Swedish crime writing. Could The Dogs of Riga be in part a tribute to his great predecessors?
© Peter Rozovsky 2011