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The Fire Engine that Disappeared: A Martin Beck Police Mystery (5) [Paperback]

Maj Sjowall , Per Wahloo , Colin Dexter
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 2 2009 Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
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"?

Frequently Bought Together

The Fire Engine that Disappeared: A Martin Beck Police Mystery (5) + The Laughing Policeman: A Martin Beck Police Mystery (4) + Murder at the Savoy: A Martin Beck Police Mystery (6)
Price For All Three: CDN$ 38.96


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Review

“A police procedural from the top drawer.”—Colin Dexter, from the introduction“Superbly well done. . . . Stunning right up to the last paragraph.”—New York Magazine“The first great series of police thrillers. . . . Truly exciting.”—Michael Ondaatje“Sjöwall and Wahlöö, beside writers such as Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Georges Simenon, have shaped the genre and the reader's expectations as to what crime fiction should be.”—Jo Nesbo

About the Author

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, her husband and coauthor, wrote ten Martin Beck mysteries. Mr Wahlöö, who died in 1975, was a reporter for several Swedish newspapers and magazines and wrote numerous radio and television plays, film scripts, short stories, and novels. Maj Sjöwall is also a poet.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Police Detective Novel March 23 2000
Format:Paperback
set in 70's Sweden, one of the "Martin Beck" Mysteries (there are 10 of them I think). Although they were Swedish, they made it into mainstream American Paperback print. Racy covers with contradictorily reasonably serious themes and decent writing.
"And just why is it not longer in print?" one of the bureaucrats might ask.
"Ridiculous" Beck might think under his breath.
These books give me the feeling that the authors really had a lot of experience in the world of police detective work. I don't know if they did or not. I think perhaps they were journalists who covered some criminal investigations.
There isn't a gunfight on every other page, and they don't get the guy who did it quite as easily as all that.
The work is methodical and frustrating, but in the end things get done and in the end the book is a satisfying read with small insights into both the work and the lives of the men.
This particular one has a good bit of Gunvald Larsson (not exactly Beck's favorite colleague, but definitely my favorite character) and the brick walls he very nearly runs into in trying to solve this case.
The comic relief, like the more serious moments, is reserved but very well done. I've reread some of the Larsson scenes many times.
jl
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5.0 out of 5 stars complex and riveting June 24 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
A look into the world of Swedish Homocide Bureau Chief Martin Beck. The book is well plotted and gives the reader a realistic look into the procedures of the police, as well as a glimpse into the steamy side of life (and crime) in Sweden in the late sixties.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Those quirky Swedes again April 25 2011
Format:Paperback
This book is a precursor to all the police procedurals we have come to love from Sweden (e.g. Henning Mankell). Written in 1970, it is a quirky - almost bizarre - police investigation into a fire that claims the lives of a couple of people. Like the Mankell books, it also brings into focus the personal lives of some of the officers. It helps to know a little Swedish geography - especially Stockholm - before reading this book. The book's introduction is by Colin Dexter of Inspector Morse fame - it's also a bit odd.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Fire Engine That Could June 17 2010
By Dave and Joe TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
This is book 5 in a series that needs to be read in order starting with Roseanna, the first. As you get to know the characters through brief glimpses into their private lives, you begin to understand how they work as people and how that influences their methods of investigation. This series has deserved this reprint that gives us an opportunity to discover these books published in Sweden in the 60's. It's amazing to consider only a couple of decades ago that cops worked without computers or fax machines. They had to keep focus over a long period of time in order to solve a crime. This allows for real frustration which manages to build not diminish, suspence.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  32 reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Fire is the test of gold; adversity, of strong men" Seneca July 15 2009
By Leonard Fleisig - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Fire Engine That Disappeared, first published in Sweden in 1969 was the fifth in a series of ten Martin Beck mysteries written by the Swedish, husband and wife team of Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall. The plot and structure of the Beck mysteries I've read to date do not deviate from the standard format found in any well-written police procedural. However, what sets the Beck mysteries apart is their location and character development. Naturally enough, each book is a small window into Swedish life and culture in the 1960s and 1970s when the books were written.

Further, as the series develops the character of Beck and his colleagues evolve and the reader slowly obtains a real feel for Beck and his fellow police officers. By this fifth book, the personalities of Martin Beck and his police colleagues have developed to the point where the reader almost has an instinct for how each will react to a given situation. At the same time the characters, especially Beck, remain far from predictable. However, they are already fully formed in the authors' minds and for that reason I suggest reading these books in order.

Martin Beck does not play center-stage in The Fire Engine That Disappeared. Rather, the leading role is played by his gruff, not very well liked colleague Gunvald Larsson. As the story opens, Larsson is taking a short- shift staking out a small boarding house on a frigid winter's night in Stockholm. The house explodes. Larsson rushes in and despite his heroic efforts there are quite a few deaths. The coroner quickly rules out arson but Larsson, being the stubborn cuss that he is, refuses to accept that conclusion. As the story progresses we see Larsson plowing ahead, diligently if not brilliantly. At the same time a seemingly unrelated case keeps Beck busy.

A number of things keep the Martin Beck stories interesting for me. First and foremost is the character development. None of the recurring characters are angels or virtuous men on horseback coming in to save the world from crime. They are cops, first and foremost, doing a tough job in a city, Stockholm, which had more than its share of murder and mayhem. Yet, after reading a few of these books I've grown attached to Beck and his crew. They aren't geniuses but they work. They dig out clues and they wait and they analyze and they dig some more. Second is the setting: Sweden in the 60s and 70s. Sjowall and Wahloo world view (they were socialist and strong supporters of the Social Democratic Party) does not create a rose-colored look at society but, rather, one that shows crime and moral decay even within a system that on its surface is dedicated to egalitarianism. They even seem to put forward some puritanical notions as they describe some of the consequences of the sexual revolution of the 60s and its impact on Swedish life. In other words, these remain detective stories and good ones at that. They are not polemics, quite the contrary in fact.

All in all the Martin Beck detective series is well worth reading and "The Fire Engine That Disappears" will not disappoint fans of the series.

L. Fleisig
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another excellent entry in the series Sept. 27 2002
By daveklein222 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The fifth Martin Beck novel. When an apartment building under police surveillance mysteriously explodes in the middle of the night, it's up to Beck to solve the crime. Was it terrorism? Assassination? Or just a gas leak?
One of the better novels in the series, this is the first one to deal seriously with organized crime and the underworld. It also gives more time to the hilarious Gunvald Larsson, introduced in earlier novels but here playing a major supporting role.
An excellent crime thriller.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Police Detective Novel March 23 2000
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
set in 70's Sweden, one of the "Martin Beck" Mysteries (there are 10 of them I think). Although they were Swedish, they made it into mainstream American Paperback print. Racy covers with contradictorily reasonably serious themes and decent writing.
"And just why is it not longer in print?" one of the bureaucrats might ask.
"Ridiculous" Beck might think under his breath.
These books give me the feeling that the authors really had a lot of experience in the world of police detective work. I don't know if they did or not. I think perhaps they were journalists who covered some criminal investigations.
There isn't a gunfight on every other page, and they don't get the guy who did it quite as easily as all that.
The work is methodical and frustrating, but in the end things get done and in the end the book is a satisfying read with small insights into both the work and the lives of the men.
This particular one has a good bit of Gunvald Larsson (not exactly Beck's favorite colleague, but definitely my favorite character) and the brick walls he very nearly runs into in trying to solve this case.
The comic relief, like the more serious moments, is reserved but very well done. I've reread some of the Larsson scenes many times.
jl
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Beck's Best Dec 10 2013
By Dean 1900 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The ten novels in the Martin Beck series are the best collecion of police procedurals ever written.

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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favorite so far Nov. 30 2010
By Patto - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A house explodes on an odd bit of road in Stockholm. It's inhabited by prostitutes, children, old people and a small-time gangster of some interest to the police, who are watching outside half frozen in the slushy snow.

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.
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