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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Man who
went up in Smoke

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

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To purchase The Man who went up in Smoke

Title: The Man who went up in Smoke
Authors: Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö
Genre: Novel
Written: 1966 (Eng. 1969)
Length: 183 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: The Man who went up in Smoke - US
The Man who went up in Smoke - UK
The Man who went up in Smoke - Canada
L'Homme qui partit en fumée - France
Der Mann der sich in Luft auflöste - Deutschland
  • Swedish title: Mannen som gick upp i rök
  • Translated by Joan Tate
  • The US (and French) paperback editions have an Introduction by Val McDermid

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Our Assessment:

B : decent twist(s), effectively paced

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Martin Beck is barely able to begin his vacation, joining his wife and two kids in a secluded island house (without even a telephone or fresh water), when he is recalled for a case. It's serious and it's silly, and while his wife might complain ("There must be other policeman besides you. Do you have to take on every assignment ?"), it's Beck the authorities look to to look into this.
       The Man who went up in Smoke is about a man who simply vanished -- and that in Cold War Budapest, no less. The authorities don't like the sound of that:

     "Yes," said the redhead, "we might have another Wallenberg affair on our hands."
     "That was the word we were told not to mention," said the other man in weary despair.
       So off Beck goes to Budapest, in search of what became of one Alf Matsson -- who was certainly no Wallenberg. An unpleasant journalist and nasty drunk, he traveled behind the Iron Curtain frequently, which had caught the attention of the Swedish authorities. They didn't look too closely, however, and it takes Beck a while to learn what really brought Matsson to these countries.
       The investigation is all very unofficial: the local police haven't been asked by the Swedes to look into things, for example (but, of course, the Hungarians are aware of and monitoring the situation). Beck also realizes that an eye is being kept on him as he wanders around Budapest, trying to figure out some constructive steps to take -- but he didn't expect anything else and, besides: "His lack of constructive ideas was conspicuous."
       Beck follows Matsson's trail, but there isn't much of one. The missing man's luggage is still at his hotel, the key to his room was (bizarrely) left on the steps of the local police station, and there's just no trace of him.
       The Man who went up in Smoke progresses almost achingly slowly as Beck goes from one (apparent) dead end to the next in Budapest. He doesn't have much energy or enthusiasm, either: "it was only with the greatest effort that he could summon up any interest for his assignment." And when he takes a proactive step, such as finally involving the local police -- as if they hadn't been in on it, in their own way, from the beginning -- he is rebuked by the local Swedish embassy man, who tells him: "I think that was a singularly unwise move."
       But cops are cops everywhere, and Beck and his local counterpart hit it off well enough, and after letting Beck follow one trail to nowhere after another Sjöwall and Wahlöö do a sudden about-take and up-end the whole story. Some things move considerably faster, and Beck finally gets a sense of what Matsson was up to.
       Matsson's vanishing act, however, remains a mystery, even when large pieces surrounding it fall into place. Only when Beck heads back to Sweden does he figure out what happened in the fairly satisfying and quite clever resolution.
       As in the other Martin Beck novels, this story is as much of Beck -- largely alone, and cut off from family and colleagues (here literally sent into completely foreign territory all by himself), and left very much to his own devices -- as the crime(s) (which, like most crime, is both banal and ugly). The novel doesn't seem to be going anywhere for quite a while -- and then takes off and zips along, in an effective turn-around. Beck, meanwhile, moves along at a more or less even (if melancholy) keel.
       A lot of the book -- and the whole series -- is about atmosphere, and the authors capture it well, whether in Sweden or Budapest. There are barely any scenes with Beck's wife and family, but at the end Beck does make it back to the vacation spot; typically, the book closes with this exchange with his wife, the policeman hardly reveling in his recent case-cracking triumph:
     "How are you, really ?"
      "Not well," said Martin Beck.

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 September 2010

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The Man who went up in Smoke: Reviews: Maj Sjöwall: Per Wahlöö: Books by Per Wahlöö under review: Books by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö under review:
  • The Martin Beck Mysteries:
Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Husband-and-wife Swedish authors Maj Sjöwall (b.1935) and Per Wahlöö (1926-1975) collaborated on the Martin Beck-series.

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