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The Fire Engine that Disappeared: A Martin Beck Police Mystery (5) (Martin Beck Police Mystery Series) Paperback – June 2, 2009
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
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The lightning-paced fifth novel in the Martin Beck mystery series by the internationally renowned crime writing duo, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, finds Beck investigating one of the strangest, most violent, and unforgettable crimes of his career.The incendiary device that blew the roof off a Stockholm apartment not only interrupted the small, peaceful orgy underway inside, it nearly took the lives of the building's eleven occupants. And if one of Martin Beck's colleagues hadn't been on the scene, the explosion would have led to a major catastrophe because somehow a regulation fire-truck has vanished. Was it terrorism, suicide, or simply a gas leak? And what if, anything, did the explosion have to do with the peculiar death earlier that day of a 46-year-old bachelor whose cryptic suicide note consisted of only two words: "Martin Beck"?
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Everything about the fire is peculiar, from how it started to how it was reported to how it was interpreted. This dramatic incident sets in motion a wonderfully clever, weirdly witty plot.
The reader can look forward to ingenious murder methods, dramatic rescues, lethal mistakes, comic carnal encounters - and lots of engrossing police work.
Superintendent Beck of the Stockholm homicide squad catches cold again and does not particularly shine in this investigation. But he has the admirable skill, so lacking in many supervisors, of letting others shine. Lesser intellects than Beck perform quite brilliantly, despite (or because of) their flaws.
The stand-out is inspector Gunvald Larsson, best known for roughing up thugs and kicking in doors. He's not well liked in the department, but readers who appreciate a man of action will love him.
There's also a brief but welcome reappearance of the incompetent cop duo Krant and Kristiansson, who specialize in avoiding work, being rude to citizens and mishandling any crisis.
The title is perfect, in my opinion. The fire engine winds its way through the plot as a kind of brain teaser, underscoring the whimsical quality of the case.
If you read the introduction, do it last. It quotes some very funny dialog from the book that you'll want to experience fresh.
I smiled a lot at the offbeat, understated humor in the previous Martin Beck mysteries. But this time I positively cackled. The Fire Engine that Disappeared is my favorite book so far in the series. I'm off to the next.
In any event, "The Fire Engine..." has been very well reviewed and I can only agree with those who have loved the book over the years. It still feels fresh after 40 years and, my God, the writing is so clear and witty and the characters so strong. There is a typically compelling procedural that follows the initial murder to be investigated. Overall though, it really is the wonderful characters--led by the estimable Martin Beck--who make this book and its fellows so enjoyable.
A fine, quick read that will make you anxious to get a hold of everything in the Martin Beck series.
That said, Fire Engine, while certainly necessary reading for fans, is a problem. The pace is leisurely. The clues suddenly appear. Most of the main characters have lost interest in the murder of a few petty thieves. Insights into the personal lives of the main characters, so charming in others in the series, have little friction.
Its first third, with the outsider Larsson as its unlikely focus, turns to a Malmo policeman, not part of the team, to solve the murders. Realistic this may be, but dynamic? Not at all.
Laconic is one word for this novel. Fans need to read it. However, readers new to Martin Beck are less likely to become attached to this superb Swedish series if they begin here.
The edgy interaction among the detectives and the movement of the complex plot hold our attention to the climax, which is a bit too much. Nonetheless, the book, the fifth in the series, is a worthy effort. It rewards us with a fair painting of the tough life of the homicide detectives and presents detectives as a flawed humans working hard to complete thankless tasks. Reading Sjöwall and Wahlöö remains an existential adventure.
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