Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Inspector's Dinner Party

Martin Beck, Chief Inspector in the National Homicide Squad of Sweden, was planning a dinner party for some of his friends on the police force -- his debut at entertaining after splitting from his wife. As we first encounter him in Murder at the Savoy, he's contemplating the evening's menu -- a challenge, since he doesn't really know how to cook. We also know -- as he doesn't as yet -- that a murder has occurred, and he'll soon be engaged in solving it. But meanwhile:
At five to seven he'd finished setting the table and surveyed his work.

There was matjes herring on a bed of dill, sour cream and chives. A dish of carp roe with a wreath of diced onion, dill and lemon slices. Thin slices of smoked salmon spread out on fragile lettuce leaves. Sliced hard-boiled eggs. Smoked herring. Smoked flounder. Hungarian salami, Polish sausage, Finnish sausage and liver sausage from Skane. A large bowl of lettuce with lots of fresh shrimp. He was especially proud of that, since he had made it himself and to his surprise it even tasted good. Six different cheeses on a cutting board. Radishes and olives. Pumpernickel, Hungarian country bread, and French bread, hot and crusty. Crusty butter in a tub. Fresh potatoes were simmering on the stove, sending out small puffs of dill fragrance. In the refrigerator were four bottles of Piesporter Falkenberg, cans of Carlsberg Hof and a bottle of Lojtens schnaps in the freezer compartment. (p. 26)
Martin Beck must have had a great delicatessen to shop at! After the dinner party is over, he takes charge of the case -- the murder of a despicable industrialist whose success depended on his maltreatment and exploitation of the poor and the working classes. Needless to say, by the end of the book the case is solved

Martin Beck is the principal hero of the series of books by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. These in my opinion are excellent mysteries, set in Sweden in the late 1960s; I read them years ago and have been rereading them lately, thanks to a recent republication. If anything, I like them better now because the suspense still works, the characters still ring true, and the social observations (such as the detective's dinner menu) and the political thoughts (the authors are leftists) are almost like a time capsule. I find the pace fast, and the choices of which areas of the detectives' personal lives to relate just right. In other words, I may not be easy to please but I'm not impossible.

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