Holmes, Poirot and Wolfe were colorful, larger-than-life figures, but the Swedish detective Martin Beck is so ordinary it hurts. He's average-looking and drably dressed. He's given to colds and headaches, smokes too much and has a lousy marriage. His one passion is solving crimes. In this novel, a woman's naked body turns up in the waters of a Swedish canal. For months the police can't even identify her. Finally she proves to be an American tourist named Roseanna, a passenger on a cruise ship. The police work is slow and frustrating, but Beck is outraged by the way the woman died, and he won't give up. The narrative is often grim and clinical, but there is a harsh beauty in its relentlessness, in its inexorable progress. The investigation inches along, then ends with a burst of violence that amounts to a catharsis for Beck and for the reader.
The Washington Post
From the Publisher
“A modern classic. . . . Lively, stylistically taut . . . Sjöwall and Wahlöö changed the genre.”
—Henning Mankell, from the introduction
"A wonderfully tough and pleasantly chilling tale . . . told without a wasted word."
“Superb suspense. . . . Let no mystery authority worth the appellation miss Roseanna. . . . I have never read a finer police story.” —Dorothy B. Hughes, Los Angeles Times
“Sjöwall and Wahlöö are the best writers of police procedural in the world.”
Read an Excerpt
They found the corpse on the eighth of July just after three o'clock in the afternoon. It was fairly well intact and couldn't have been lying in the water very long.Actually, it was mere chance that they found the body at all. And finding it so quickly should have aided the police investigation.Below the locks at Borenshult there is a breakwater which protects the entrance to the lake from the east wind. When the canal opened for traffic that spring, the channel had begun to clogup. The boats had a hard time maneuvering and their propellers churned up thick clouds of yellowish mud from the bottom. It wasn't hard to see that something had to be done. As early as May, the Canal Company requisitioned a dredging machine from the Civil Engineering Board. The papers were passed from one perplexed civil servant to another and finally remitted to the Swedish National Shipping and Navigation Administration. The Shipping and Navigation Administration thought that work should be done by one of the Civil Engineering Board. The papers were passed from one perplexed civil servant to another and finally remitted to the Swedish National Shipping and Navigation Administration. The Shipping and Navigation Administration thought that the work should be done by one of the Civil Engineering Board's bucket dredging machines. But the Civil Engineering Board found that the Shipping and Navigation Administration had control over bucket dredging machines and in desperation made and appeal to the Harbor Commission in Norrkoping which immediately returned the papers to the Shipping and Navigation Administration, which remitted them to the Civil Engineering Board at which point someone picked up the telephone and dialed an engineer who knew all about bucket dredging machines. He knew that of the five existing bucket dredgers, there was only one that could pass through the locks. The vessel was called The Pig and happened just then to be lying in the fishing harbor at Gravarne. On the morning of July 5 The Pig arrived and moored at Borenshult as the neighborhood children and a Vietnamese tourist looked on.One hour later a representative of the Canal Company went on board to discuss the project. That took the whole afternoon. The next day was Saturday and vessel remained by the breakwater while the men went home for the weekend. The crew consisted of a dredging foreman, who was also the officer in command wit the authority to take the vessel to sea, an excavating engineer, and a deck man. The latter two men were from Gothenburg and took the night train from Motala. The skipper lived in Nacka and his wife came go get him in their car. At seven o'clock on Monday morning all three were pm board again and one hour later they began to dredge. By eleven o'clock the hold was full later they began to dredge. By eleven o'clcock the hold was full and the dredger went out into the lake to dump. On the way back they had to lay off and wait while a white steamboat approached the Boren locks in a westerly direction. Foreign tourists crowded along the vessel's railing and waved excitedly at the working crew on the dredger. The passenger boat was elevated slowly up the locks toward Motala and lake Vottern and by lunch time its top pennant had disappeared in back of the uppermost sluice gat. At one-thirty the men began to dredge again.The situation was this: the weather was warm and beautiful with mild temperature winds and idly moving summer clouds. There were some people on the breakwater and on the edge of the canal. Most of them were sunning themselves, a few were fishing, and two or three were watching the dredging activity. The dredger's bucket had just gobbled up out of the water. The excavating engineer was operating the familiar handgrips in his cabin. The dredging foreman was having a cup of coffee in the galley, and the deck man stood with his having elbows on the railing and spit in the water. The bucket was still on the way up.As it broke through the surface of the water, a man on the pier took a few steps toward the boat. He waved his arms and shouted something. The deck man looked up to hear better."There's someone in the bucket! Stop! Someone's lying in the bucket!"The confused deck man looked first at the man and then at the bucket which slowly swung in over the hold to spit out its contents. Filthy gray water streamed out of the bucket as it hung over the hold. Then the deck man saw what the man on the breakwater had seen. A white, naked arm stuck out of the bucket's jaw.The next ten minutes seemed endless and chaotic. Someone stood on the pier and said, over and over again: "Don't do anything; don't touch anything; leave everything alone until the police come. . . "The excavating engineer came out to see what was going on. He stared, then hurried back to the relative security of his seat behind the leavers. As the let the crane swing and the bucket open, the dredging foreman and the deck man took out the body.It was a woman. They excavating engineer came out to see what was going on. He started, then hurried back to the relative security of his seat behind the leavers. As the let the crane swing and the bucket open, the dredging foreman and the deck man took out the body.It was a woman. They laid her on her back on a folded tarpaulin out on the breakwater. A group of amazed people gathered around and stared at her. Some of them were children and shouldn't have been there but no one thought to sent them away. But all of them had one thing in common: they would never forget how she looked.The deck man had thrown three buckets of water over her. Long afterwards, when the police inquiry was bogged down, there were people who criticized him for this.She was naked and had no jewelry on. The lines of her tan made it apparent that she had sunbathed in a bikini. Her hips were broad and she had heavy things. Her pubic hair was black and wet and thick. Her breasts were small and slack with large, dark nipples. A red scratch ran from her waist to her hipbone. The rest of her skin was smooth without spots or scars. She had small hands and feet and her nails were not polished. Her face was swollen and it was hard to imaging how she had actually looked alive. She had thick, dark eyebrows and her mouth seemed wide. Her medium-length hair was dark and lay flat on her head. A coil of hair lay across her throat.Motala is a medium-sized Swedish city in the province of Ostergotland at the northern end of Lake Vattern. It has a population of 27,000. Its highest police authority is a Commissioner of Police who is also the Public Prosecutor. He has a Police Superintendent under him who is the chief executive of both the regular police constabulary and the criminal police. His staff also includes a First Detective Inspector in the ninth salary grade, six policemen and one policewoman. One of the policemen is a trained photographer and when medical examinations are needed they usually fall back on one of the city's doctors.One hour after the first alarm, several of these people had gathered on the pier at Borenshult, several yards from the harbor light. It was rather crowded around the corpse and the men on the dredger could no longer see what was happening. They were still on board in spite of the fact that the vessel was prepared to make way with its port bow against the breakwater.The number of people behind the police barricade on the abutment had increased tenfold. On the other side of the canal there were several cars, four of which belonged to the police, and a white-painted ambulance with red crosses on the back doors. Two me in white overalls leaned against a fender smoking. They seemed to be the only people who weren't interested in the group out by the harbor light.On the breakwater the doctor began to gather his things together. He chatted wit the Superintended who was a tall, gray-haired man named Larsson."There isn't much I can say about it now." Said the doctor."Does she have to remain lying here? Larsson asked."Isn't that more your business," replied the doctor."This is hardly the scene of the crime.""Okay," the doctor agreed, "She that they drive her to the mortuary. I'll telephone ahead."He shut his bag and left.The Superintendent turned and called, "Ahlberg, You're going to keep the area blocked off, aren't you?""Yes, damn it."The Commissioner of Police hadn't said anything out by the harbor light. He didn't usually enter investigations in the early stages. But on the way in to town, he said: "You'll keep me informed."Larsson didn't even bother to nod."You'll keep Ahlberg on it?""Ahlberg's good man," said the Superintendent."Yes, of course."The conversation ended. They arrived, left the car and went into their separate officers. The Commissioner placed a telephone call to the Country Authority in Linkoping who merely said: "I'll be waiting to hear from you."The Superintendent had a short conversation wit Ahlberg. "We have to find out who she is.""Yes," said Ahlberg.He went into his office, called the Fire Department and requisitioned tow frogmen. Then he read through a report on a burglary in the harbor. That one would be cleared up soon. Ahlberg got up and went to the officer on duty."Is there anyone reported missing?""No.""No notification of missing persons?"He went back of his office and waited.The call came after fifteen minutes."We have to ask for an autopsy," said the doctor."Was she strangled.""Raped?""I think so."The doctor paused a second. Then he said: "And pretty methodically, too."Ahlberg bit on his index fingernail. He thought of his vacation which was to begain of Friday and how happy his wife was about it.The doctor misinterpreted the silence."Are you surprised?""No," said Ahlberg.He hung up and went into Larsson's office. Then they went to the Commissioner's office togetherTen minutes later the Commissioner asked for a medico-legal post-mortem examination from the Country Administrator who contacted the Government Institute for Forensic Medicine. The autopsy was conducted by a seventy year old professor. He came on the night train from the Country Administrator who contacted the Government Institute for Forensic Medicine. The autopsy was conducted by a seventy year ole professor. He came on the night train from Stockholm and seemed bright and cheerful. He conducted the autopsy in eight hours, almost without a break.Then he left a preliminary report with the following wording" "Death by strangulation in conjunction with gross sexual assault. Severe inner bleeding."By the time the records of the inquiry and reports had already began to accumulate on Ahlberg's desk. They could be summed up in one sentence: a dead woman had been found in the lock chamber at Borenshult.No one had been reported missing in the city or in neighboring police districts. There was no description of any such missing person.It was a quarter after five in the morning and it was raining. Martin Beck took more time brushing his teeth than usual to get rid of the taste of lead in his mouth.He buttoned his collar, tied his tie and looked listlessly at his face in the mirror. He shrugged his shoulders and went out into the hall, continued on through the living room, glanced longingly at the half-finished model of the training ship Danmark, on which he had worked until the rate hours the night before, and went into the kitchen.He moved quietly and softly, partly from habit and partly not to wake the children.He sat down at the kitchen table."Hasn't the newspaper come yet?" he said."It never comes before six," his wife answered.It was completely light outside but overcast. The daylight in the kitchen was gray and soupy. His wife hadn't turned on the lights. She called that saving.He opened his mouth but closed it again without saying anything. There would only be an argument and this wasn't the moment for it. Instead he drummed slowly with his fingers on the formica table top. He looked at the empty cup with its blue rose pattern and a chip in the rim and a brown crack down from the notch. That cup had hung on for almost duration of their marriage. More than ten years. She rarely broke anything, in any case not irreparably. The odd part of it was that the children were the same.Could such qualities be inherited? He didn't know.She took the coffee pot from the stove and filled his cup. He stopped drumming on the table."Don't you want a sandwich?' she asked.He drank carefully with small gulps. He was sitting slightly round-shouldered at the end of the table."You really ought to eat something," she insisted."You know I can't eat in the morning.""You ought to in any case," she said. "Especially you, with your stomach."He rubbed his fingers over his cheek and felt some places he'd missed with his razor. He drank some coffee."I can make some toast," she suggested.Five minutes later he placed his cup on the saucer, moved it away without a sound, and looked up at his wife.She had on a fluffy red bathrobe over a nylon nightgown add she sat wit her elbows on the table, supporting her chin with her hands. She was blond, with fair skin and round, slightly popping eyes. She usually darkened her eyebrows but they had paled during the summer and were now nearly as light as her hair. She was a few years older than he and in spite of the fact that she had gained few years older than he and in spite of the fact that the she had gained a good deal of weight in the last few years. the skin on her throat was beginning to sag a little.She had given up her job in an architect's office when their daughter was born twelve years ago and since then had not thought about working again. When the boy started school, Martin Beck had suggested she look for some part-time work, but she had fingered it would hardly pay. Besides, she was comfortable with her own nature and pleased with her role as a housewife."Oh, yes," thought Martin Beck and got up. He placed the blue-painted stool under the table quietly and stood by the window looking out at the drizzle.Down below the parking place and lawn, the highway lay smooth and empty.