I’ve been reading a series of police procedural novels written by a Swedish man and wife team, back in the sixties. Why? Mainly because I learned that they were the influence for Martin Cruz Smith, whom I consider as the very best word smith in fiction of our era (Gorky Park, Stalin’s Ghost, Red Square, and others). But I must admit that the Swedish language, even in translation, is rather difficult.
For instance, I will quote a paragraph which is typical: “Karlviksgatan is a short and not very well-known street running form Norr Malarstrand to Handverkargatan, quite near Fridhemsplan. It took Martin Beck ten minutes to get there by car.”
I’d say Beck did it in record time. It took me ten minutes to read the thing. In spite of the difficult language, I would urge aspiring crime writers to read this series. They are not cheap even in ebook form, running from nine to eleven bucks a throw and they are not long books. Most are just over 200 pages. But they were written by the man and wife duo, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. They set out to write ten novels with Martin Beck as their police hero. Some of the latter ones, written during the Vietnam war, take some cheap shots at America, so you can skip those. In those the writers do the unforgivable-they allow their personal socialistic politics to sneak into their fiction.
But most mystery writers will agree that the two authors set the standard for modern detective novels, just as Sjowall and Wahloo obviously borrowed freely from early Chandler and Ed McBain. In that vein, I cannot urge newbie writers strongly enough to READ everything from the good authors of the past. We do indeed learn from those who have trod these paths before us.