Radio 4 is dramatizing the entire series of ten Martin Beck detective novels, widely acknowledged as some of the most influential crime fiction ever written.
Swedish husband and wife team Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s 10-book series featuring detective Martin Beck and his colleagues in the National Police Homicide Department in Stockholm was written between 1965 – 1975, and set a gold standard for all subsequent Scandanavian crime fiction, and indeed for much crime fiction in Britain and America written since.
Challenging the long-standing convention of the lone genius detective, Sjöwall and Wahlöö created in Martin Beck the prototype of the all-too human policeman working with a motley collection of similarly flawed colleagues. The crimes they tackled in the newly created National Homicide Department in Stockholm often followed the news agenda of the 1960s: paedophilia, serial killers, suicide, drugs smuggling. And they were written to provide a deliberate critique of what the authors saw as a democratic society in crisis: their aim was to write a Decalogue, subtitled The Story of a Crime, in which they successfully constructed an incisive and realistic portrait of Sweden. Although it was a country then deemed to be alluringly liberal, Sjöwall and Wahlöö perceived it to be a stifling and directionless place where crimes were solved by painstaking police investigation, led by the dogged and sympathetic Martin Beck.
The use of crime and criminal investigations to hold up a mirror to society and its most dysfunctional elements is commonplace now, but that’s because Martin Beck paved the way for subsequent generations of crime writers whose flawed heroes – Kurt Wallander, John Rebus - make the best fist they can of their own lives whilst holding up a mirror to the flawed society around them.
Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö were last year included in The Observer’s list of ten best modern European crime writers, and bestselling writers as diverse as Henning Mankell, Val McDermid, John Dexter and the British husband-and-wife team Nicci French have all acknowledged a huge debt to the pair.
The first five of the Beck stories will be broadcast in Autumn 2012, and the next five in the Spring of 2013. The Directors are Mary Peate and Sara Davies, and the writers are Katie Hims and Jennifer Howarth.
Steven Mackintosh, star of the recent BBC1 acclaimed series Inside Men, plays Martin Beck, and Neil Pearson is his friend and colleague Lennart Kollberg.