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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

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To purchase Roseanna

Title: Roseanna
Authors: Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö
Genre: Novel
Written: 1965 (Eng. 1967)
Length: 212 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: Roseanna - US
Roseanna - UK
Roseanna - Canada
Roseanna - France
Die Tote im Götakanal - Deutschland
  • Swedish title: Roseanna
  • Translated by Lois Roth

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Our Assessment:

B+ : quite solid procedural, and a good series-start

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 12/12/1968 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "The authors combine to make something of a Swedish Hillary Waugh (.....) But it's not so good as the American master's work -- too much sexual detail, too much detective's depression, a general lack of liveliness." - Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Roseanna is the first in Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö's classic series of Martin Beck novels, and it makes for a solid start. This is very much a Martin Beck novel, introducing the loner First Detective Inspector with the National Police who seems always lost in thought. He's in that mid-life crisis range, in a passionless marriage with two kids, one on the verge of adolescence, devoted to his job but also using it as an excuse to keep himself occupied.
       This is a novel full of the difficulties of communication. Beck and his wife communicate on a superficial level, and he barely knows what to say to his kids. The case this novel centers on involves an American victim, and when Beck first contacts the homicide officer -- named Kafka, a choice that's a bit over the top -- in Lincoln, Nebraska where she comes from the way the telephone conversation proceeds is typical:

     "I understand she was murdered," shouted Kafka. "Did you get the guy ?"
     "Not yet."
     "I can't hear you."
     "In a short time, I hope, not yet," said Martin Beck.
     "You shot him ?"
     "I did what ? No, no, not shot ..."
     "Yeah, I hear, you shot the bastard," screamed the man on the other side of the Atlantic. "That's great. I'll give that to the papers here."
     "You are misunderstanding," Beck roared.
       Even the first confession that Beck elicits turns out to be for a completely different crime than the one he is investigating. The authors repeatedly turn to the most basic forms of exchanges in the novel -- there are several transcripts included, consisting solely of dialogue, for example, along with minimally embellished interrogations -- but even where answers are not evasive only parts of the picture become clearer. Words by themselves yield little: one suspect who is questioned has all the right answers -- but afterwards Beck is certain that he is their man (and it's not the first time gut feeling has been decisive).
       The case itself is that of the murder -- and apparently brutal sexual violation -- of Roseanna McGraw, dredged up from the water half a world away from home. She was a vacationing librarian, last seen on a small cruise ship with dozens of other tourists, many of them foreign -- making it difficult to track down witnesses (and potential suspects). Roseanna was no shrinking violet: the information Kafka provides shows that she liked to get and sleep around -- selectively but intensely. As one colleague put it, she wasn't temperamental, but rather: "She had no temperament at all."
       Roseanna is a police procedural, the case complicated by the fact that the witnesses are so widely dispersed and by the time that passed since the crime (she was not immediately discovered). Indeed, the investigation, too, proceeds very slowly: more than a week after they found the body, for example, they were still scratching their heads:
We haven't learned a thing since then. We don't know who she is, we don't know the scene of the crime, and we have no suspects.
       Piece by piece -- though at a very slow pace, at least until the end -- they put it all together. The procedural part is certainly solid -- the expected twists and turns and false hopes, and an interesting mix of material, from the interviews with the victim's friends in Nebraska to the persons of interest closer to home.
       Beck doesn't fully emerge in these pages yet -- too often he's practically (sleep-)walking through the scenes. There's barely a glimpse of his family life aside from a few short exchanges (in coming or leaving or making excuses) between husband and wife and, typically, the one good opportunity to give some sense of his personal life is completely passed over:
     In the beginning of August, Martin Beck took one week's vacation and went out to the archipelago with his family. When he got back he continued to work on the routine jobs which came to his desk. He was depressed and slept poorly.
       For a stand-alone novel this would be pretty thin, but as the first in a series of ten the slow character build-up can pass; certainly, one gets a sense of the guy.
       Roseanna still feels a bit experimental, Sjöwall and Wahlöö trying out a variety of things, some with greater success than others. The pacing is interesting -- for the longest time progress is achingly slow, but then accelerates in one fell swoop at the end -- and the case itself solid. Almost half a century later, in a time where thrillers of this sort would be padded with (largely personal) detail to twice or thrice this length, it can feel a bit thin, but on the whole it works quite well. A good, solid, well-presented little mystery.

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 August 2010

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Roseanna: Reviews: Maj Sjöwall: Per Wahlöö: Books by Per Wahlöö under review: Books by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö under review: 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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