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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Steel Spring

Per Wahlöö

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To purchase The Steel Spring

Title: The Steel Spring
Author: Per Wahlöö
Genre: Novel
Written: 1968 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 200 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: The Steel Spring - US
The Steel Spring - UK
The Steel Spring - Canada
The Steel Spring - India
Arche d'acier - France
Unternehmen Stahlsprung - Deutschland
  • Swedish title: Stålsprånget
  • Translated by Sarah Death
  • Previously translated by Joan Tate (1970)

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Our Assessment:

B : somewhat disappointing denouement to an otherwise impressive work

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Independent on Sunday . 29/1/2013 David Evans

  From the Reviews:
  • "The premise is intriguing, although there is rather too much exposition, and the novel ultimately lacks drama. Still, the themes are topical" - David Evans, Independent on Sunday

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:

       In The Steel Spring Per Wahlöö returns to the unnamed country of Murder on the Thirty-First Floor, a few years on. This is still the land of the Accord, where many years earlier the political parties ironed out their differences and formed a grand coalition (to maintain their iron grip on power). As one citizen recalls about the once-socialist party, for example:

They abandoned socialism, made successive changes to their party programme, and delivered the whole country up to imperialism and the formation of private capital.
       For the most part, things appear, at least on the surface, to be going reasonably well. There's almost no crime, for example. The only big problems are rampant alcoholism -- which, despite enormous taxes imposed on alcoholic beverages and other efforts, just can't be kept in check --, rather too many citizens opting for suicide, and a terribly low birth rate.
       Back on the scene, too, is Inspector Jensen, the policeman who has never left a crime unsolved. He's fifty now, and the outlook is not good: after years in pain he's getting the necessary operation -- a liver transplant -- but it will be performed abroad (they aren't up to doing it locally) and his chances of survival are slim. As the police doctor he talks to helpfully explains about his chances before his departure:
Maybe ten per cent, maybe only five. In all probability even less than that.
       The last order that comes across Jensen's desk before he leaves is to arrest forty-three doctors. As always, he unquestioningly does as he is told -- though given his imminent departure he can barely set it in motion, passing on the task to the officer who is taking over his duties in his absence.
       Against the odds, Jensen survives. After a few months in hospital abroad recovering he is ordered back home -- but finds his flight diverted to a neighboring country, where he learns that something strange has happened back home.
       What exactly happened is unclear -- because there's almost no information about and from the country. Embassies and border posts are unmanned, and there's no communication with anyone in the country. Some sort of epidemic seems to have struck, with massive casualties, but spy flights (by a "friendly superpower") prove there is still considerable human activity. Jensen is directed -- by the highest powers, who conveniently are out of the country -- to investigate.
       Stealthily repatriated, Jensen does indeed find a baffling and largely barren world. But there is still some human activity -- medical personnel in ambulances, for one, but also some citizens, hiding out.
       Jensen's qualities include a systematic doggedness in his investigations; so too here. Typical, too, is the observation (in this case, from those sending him on this mission) and then response:
     'You haven't any imagination,' His Excellency said in a petulant, reproachful tone.
     'That's right,' said Jensen. 'I haven't.'
       It's a neat, disturbing premise Wahlöö serves up here, and the detached Jensen is an ideal guide into the mysteries of this cold, cold world. He deals with various survivors in his professional way, and slowly fits together what pieces he comes across. Things are not, however, straightforward:
     'Let's just stick to the facts,' Jensen said amiably. 'Plain and simple facts.'
     'Facts. There are no plain and simple facts.'
       Eventually, however, Wahlöö has to resort to serving up a survivor, who recounts what transpired in Jensen's absence. Among the revelations: Jensen is told: "all the essentials happened before you left. Long before."
       The fine set-up of the novel eventually devolves into Michael Crichton-territory, an explanation (of vague and Crichtonesque plausibility) patiently put together. It's fine, but it doesn't pack nearly the punch that the presentation of Jensen's progress seemed to promise.
       What started off as an impressive, atmospheric novel of a world gone wrong turns into a what could pass for an early Crichton novel (though slightly better-written and more politically aware) -- a decent page-turner, with a layer of political critique, but too simplistically far-fetched in what's behind it all. It's a good read, especially at first, but the denouement diminishes the strong initial impression.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 May 2015

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The Steel Spring: Reviews: 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:

       Swedish author Per Wahlöö (1926-1975) is best known for the Martin Beck-series he co-authored with his wife, Maj Sjöwall.

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© 2015 the complete review

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