Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

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Book Chapter

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Mystery and Suspense Writers: The Literature of Crime, Detection, and Espionage


When Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö spoke of their purpose in writing the Martin Beck police procedurals, they used a metaphor suggesting a surgeon and a patient: the authors would wield a "scalpel" in order to lay open the soft "belly" of the "morally debatable" bourgeois welfare state, exposing the cancer that was eating away at Swedish society (quoted in Lundin, Twentieth-Century Crime and Mystery Writers, p. 1553). In asserting this explicitly ideological aim for their series, Sjöwall and Wahlöö reconceived the crime novel as a progressive genre, rather than a fundamentally conservative one. Earlier detective fiction had often articulated a society's anxieties precisely in order to defuse them and thus reassure the reader; Sjöwall and Wahlöö, on the other hand, intended their novels as a polemical contribution to an ongoing political debate within Swedish society over the future of social democracy within a capitalist framework. Such a plan should not be surprising, coming from a pair of authors whose leftist sympathies were well known.

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