I'm always curious as to how other readers' impressions of a book align with or differ from my own. When I reached the end of The Fire Engine that Disappeared by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, I did a quick scan of review sites and found that other readers had expressed disappointment in it, opining that it didn't measure up to the rest of the Martin Beck series, particularly the book that immediately preceded it, The Laughing Policeman. Well, I must confess that I haven't yet acquired a copy of The Laughing Policeman and, as a consequence, I skipped straight from #3 (The Man on the Balcony) to #5. And without The Laughing Policeman—which is by many accounts the standout of the series—looming over it, The Fire Engine that Disappeared held up just fine. Indeed, my impression of the series, as expressed in yesterday's post, is that it gets better and better with each book.
I was thoroughly puzzled by the mystery at the heart of The Fire Engine that Disappeared—the links between a disparate group of small-time crooks and their connection to the big, shocking, and seemingly professional crime that occurs at the start of the novel—and enjoyed unraveling it alongside Martin Beck and his team. The accent truly is on team here, as the reader witnesses not just Martin Beck and his usual colleagues working together, but also their assistance from and cooperation with other branches of the Stockholm police, a laconic Malmö detective, and a counterpart of his in Copenhagen, as the case takes on an international dimension. I felt that I got to know Martin Beck much better in this installment, and I also relished learning more about the thoroughly unpleasant but very intriguing Gunvald Larsson. The only negative for me is that there seemed to be more in this book of an element in the series of which I am wearying—a string of minor female characters who appear to be willing to sleep with anyone at the drop of a hat. Could this be an accurate reflection of sexual mores in Sweden in the late 1960s? Or is a nod to hard-boiled crime fiction convention? Regardless, it feels out of step with what otherwise seems to be a realistic portrayal of 1960s Sweden. That's a minor annoyance however and my enthusiasm for the series continues unabated.