Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö: Cop Killer

Although this ninth is only the penultimate volume of Maj Sjöwall’s and Per Wahlöö’s consistently excellent series of police procedurals, it feels like a summing up of what has gone before, of things coming to a head and to an end. The most obvious cause of that is probably that Cop Killer harkens back to the first two novels by bringing back the murderers featured in them (which is why it is a good to not read Cop Killer before Roseanna and The Man Who Went Up In Smoke, unless you really don’t mind spoilers). Maybe somewhat less obvious, but definitely more important is the way this novel marks the culmination of the authors’ ongoing critique of the course Swedish society has taken since the late 60’s.

Cop Killer (The Martin Beck series, Book 9)Nobody who read the any of the previous volumes will be surprised that Sjöwall and Wahlöö take a very dim view of that course, and in Cop Killer there is a pervading sense that things have deteriorated to a state were they are becoming unendurable. Martin Beck spends most of the time in a small provincial town in Southern Sweden, and while that seems like an almost idyllic place compared to Stockholm or even Malmö, it does not remain untouched from the general corruption. More, there is a distinct of siege mentality, with the few good people withdrawing from society, moving to the fringes or into privacy where they try to withstand the tide of greed and stupidity sweeping over the country – I even felt reminded of the zombie apocalypse at times if only for the unrelenting fatalism with which the characters in this novel seem to accept the unavoidable victory of the power-hungry and incompetent. Everyone seems to be resigned to the fact that the country is going to the dogs and that their small acts of defiance (finding the actual killer of a woman in spite of pressure from one’s superiors, arresting a small-time criminal before the full weight of a militarized police force comes crushes on him) will be ultimately futile as the police is taken over by ruthless thugs in the lower and even more ruthless careerists in the upper ranks.

As can probably be guessed from the above, Cop Killer is a very dark and indeed bitter novel. Even so, it is also an occasionally very funny one, as Sjöwall and Wahlöö continue to give their satiric urge free rein, this time not just aiming at police bureaucracy and incompetence but also at the press and their greed for headlines. It is grim and biting humour but still serves as at least a bit of comic relief in what is otherwise a very bleak novel, that barely manages to become outright depressing by granting the protagonists that we have been following over nine volumes now at least some level of private happiness (although it has to be added that compared to earlier volumes their private lives is not given much space here). Just one novel to go now, and it will be interesting to see where Sjöwall and Wahlöö will take the final volume of the series from here.

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