Novel about a crime

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The seat of the investigators in most of the novels: the old Stockholm police headquarters on Kungsholmen
Coat of arms of the Swedish National Police Office (Rikspolisstyrelsen)

Novel about a crime ( Swedish novel om ett brott ) is a novel decalogy published between 1965 and 1975 by the Swedish author couple Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö . The series was a worldwide success and was filmed several times. A fundamental innovation in the detective novel is the realistic depiction of the investigative activity as the interaction of many participants. Until then, the genre was dominated by the ingenious individual investigator, for example Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot .

The main character in the series is the policeman Martin Beck, who is first assistant detective, then detective superintendent , and later head of the nationwide Swedish homicide commission .

Goal setting

While the figure of Martin Beck is still largely in the foreground in the first volumes, his employees move more and more into focus in later volumes. At the same time, in the course of the series, Sjöwall's and Wahlöö's claim to sharply criticize the conditions in the authorities and the Swedish state underground Erlander and Olof Palme becomes more and more evident , reflected by the work of the Swedish police.

The two authors were Marxists and based their novels on the police crime novels by Ed McBain , some of which Per Wahlöö had translated into Swedish in order to make their viewpoint critical of capitalism accessible to a wide audience through entertainment literature:

“The basic idea is to present in a long novel of around 3000 pages (...) a longitudinal section through a society with a certain structure and crime as a social function and its relationship to society as well as to the various moral forms of life that surround this society analyze."

- Per Wahlöö 1966

With “crime” in the title novel about a crime is meant the capitalist society as a crime of the Swedish state against the working class. This title was used from the beginning in the Swedish original, but in German only when Rowohlt later republished all ten volumes in one cassette.


The novel about a crime was planned from the outset to consist of ten volumes, which appeared between 1965 and 1975 in the Swedish Norstedts-Verlag and were reprinted several times.

In Germany, the novels appeared as paperbacks in the series rororo thriller in the Rowohlt Verlag from 1968 onwards in translation by Eckehard Schultz (five volumes), Johannes Carstensen (two volumes), Hans-Joachim Maass (two volumes) and Dagmar-Renate Jenich (one volume ). An unabridged licensed edition appeared from 1973 in the GDR publishing house Volk und Welt . In contrast to the titles in Rowohlt, a literal translation of the original Swedish title was chosen for two volumes. The volume , which was partly played in Budapest, was published in the GDR as the last book in the series in 1988 in a double volume, the single volume followed in 1989.

German new translation

In the fall of 2008, Rowohlt published a new translation of the entire series by three different translators, which received mixed coverage in the press:

“The Schultz translations were able to imitate the linguistic peculiarities of the original much more faithfully than the new ones, which have a disappointing tendency to flatten out. In Sjöwall / Wahlöö's prose there are very detailed, sometimes cumbersome sentence structures that are contrasted with a precise, strongly rhythmic form of dialogue. All this is smoothly smoothed out in the new transmissions, leveled and brought into a standard crime German. "

- Katharina Granzin /

Overview of volumes and titles

No. Release Original title German title VÖ FRG translation to German Title of the GDR licensed edition VÖ DDR Literal translation of the original title
1 1965 Roseanna The dead woman in the Göta Canal 1968 Johannes Carstensen The dead woman in the Göta Canal 1981 Roseanna
2 1966 Men som gick upp i rök The man who vanished into thin air 1969 Johannes Carstensen The man who vanished into thin air 1988 The man who went up in smoke
3 1967 Men on balconies The man on the balcony 1970 Dagmar-Renate Jenich The man on the balcony 1983 The man on the balcony
4th 1968 The skrattande polisen End stop for nine 1971 Eckehard Schultz The laughing policeman 1973 The laughing policeman
5 1969 Brandbilen som försvann Alarm in Sköldgatan 1972 Eckehard Schultz Alarm in Sköldgatan 1984 The fire truck that disappeared
6th 1970 Polis, polis, potatismos! And the big ones are let go 1972 Hans-Joachim Maass And the big ones are let go 1988 Police, police, mashed potatoes!
7th 1971 The vedervärdige mannen från Säffle The disgust from Säffle 1973 Eckehard Schultz The disgust from Säffle 1980 The disgusting man from Säffle
8th 1972 Det slutna rumble Locked and locked 1975 Hans-Joachim Maass The locked room 1977 The locked room
9 1974 Polismarians The cop killer 1976 Eckehard Schultz The cop killer 1985 The cop killer
10 1975 Terrorist star The terrorists 1977 Eckehard Schultz The terrorists 1986 The terrorists

Content of the novels

  • The dead in the Göta Canal
    The corpse of a raped and strangled woman is found
    in the Göta Canal . Her identity and the actual crime scene are not known. Commissioner Beck and his colleagues determine that the woman was on a tourist steamer. By evaluating photos and films of fellow passengers, a passenger of the steamer becomes suspect. With a police officer as a decoy, the suspect is caught.
  • The man who
    into thin air A Swedish journalist seems to have disappeared in Budapest without a trace. The Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs asks the Stockholm police for help. Martin Beck goes to Budapest. After initial resistance from the authorities, he received help from a Hungarian police officer, but was unable to find the journalist. In the end, Beck travels back to Sweden, where it turns out that the journalist did not travel to Hungary at all, but was killed by a colleague before he left.
  • The man on the balcony
    In the hot summer of 1967, several murders of children occurred in Stockholm. The police are unsuccessful. Finally, a coincidence helps her: after Martin Beck remembers a telephone complaint from an elderly lady about neighbors watching her children, the caller is located after persistent investigations. Your clue leads to the murderer's apartment and ultimately to his arrest.
  • End stop for nine
    Shortly before the end stop, the driver and all eight passengers in a Stockholm bus are shot with a machine gun, including the detective Stenström. In an arduous investigation, it turns out that Stenström was involved in a long-ago murder and was about to resolve this case. Based on his research, Martin Beck and his colleagues are able to clear up the earlier murder and the attack on the bus.
  • Alarm in Sköldgatan
    The novel begins with a gas explosion in a tenement house. Gunvald Larsson becomes a hero when he saves most of the residents from the flames. As the investigation initially shows, the drug dealer observed here by Larsson has apparently committed suicide by gas poisoning. But soon it turns out that the gas was detonated by an incendiary device hidden in the dead man's mattress. The perpetrator ultimately turns out to be a professional killer.
  • And the big ones are let go Corporate
    boss Viktor Palmgren ishaving dinner with business friends in the Hotel Savoyin
    Malmö when a man steps into the dining room, shoots Palmgren and leaves the room through an open window. A former Palmgren employee who lost his job, home and family through him is identified as the perpetrator. The police also find out that Palmgren made his living from illegal arms deals.
  • The disgust from Säffle
    The seriously ill police officer Stig Nyman from Säffle is brutally murdered in his sick room in the clinic. Inspector Beck tries to find out if the motive could be revenge for an arrest made by Nyman. The police investigate old complaints about Nyman and finally convict a former colleague whose wife was considered drunk by Nyman in a diabetic coma and died in the sobering cell.
  • Locked and locked
    An early retiree apparently shot himself in his apartment, which was locked from the inside, but no weapon was found on him. At the same time, the petty criminal Mauritzon, who is suspected of bank robbery, is arrested. But Mauritzon's former girlfriend committed the robbery with his weapon. Martin Beck determines that the "suicide" blackmailed Mauritzon and was shot by him through an open window. Since the evidence was insufficient, Mauritzon was acquitted of the murder he had committed, but sentenced to life imprisonment for the bank robbery he had not committed.
  • The police murderer
    A woman is missing in the village of Anderslöv. Since the convicted sex murderer Bengtsson from Die Tote im Götakanal is her neighbor, he is considered the main suspect. The woman's body is found and Bengtsson is arrested. At the same time two young thieves are on the run. In a shootout, one of them is shot by the police, while shortly afterwards one of the police officers dies (albeit from a wasp sting). Martin Beck ascertains that the dead woman had an unknown lover, and the fugitive youngster accidentally steals the man's car, proving the man's murder.
  • The Terrorists
    A terrorist attack is said to be carried out on an American senator during his state visit. Beck and his colleagues assume that the attack will take place in a square that the convoy has to pass, presumably as a bomb attack. The terrorists manage to plant the bomb, but are deceived by delayed television coverage when the detonation is triggered. In the end there is still an assassination attempt: the Swedish head of government is murdered by a young woman who sees him as responsible for her personal misfortune.



Martin Beck

Martin Beck is at the center of the novels. He was initially first assistant to the Reich Murder Commission in Stockholm and later rose to the position of commissioner and head of this commission. He has an unhappy marriage at the beginning of the series, but later separates from his wife. He has two children; He doesn't get along very well with his younger son Rolf, but he has a good relationship with his daughter Ingrid. After separation Beck receives a bachelor apartment in Stockholm's Gamla Stan in the old town and learns in the band closed and locked Rhea Nielsen, with whom he began a relationship. His best friend is his work colleague Lennart Kollberg. Martin Beck is calm, abstains from political comments and, despite his comparatively high position, has no professional ambitions. Especially after he was shot on duty at the end of the volume Das Ekel von Säffle and was incapacitated for several months, he was afraid of being promoted and just having to sit at his desk. In his free time he devotes himself to model shipbuilding and reads books about old sailing ships. Martin Beck has been a smoker for a long time, but after recovering from the gunshot wound he refrains from starting again. The reason for this is that the state tobacco monopoly has stopped production of its preferred variety, “Florida” with a cardboard mouthpiece, and Beck cannot get used to another variety.

Lennart Kollberg

Lennart Kollberg is Martin Beck's direct subordinate and his closest confidante. He is considered intelligent and capable, although he is sometimes ridiculed because of his corpulence. Ever since he accidentally shot a comrade as a patrolman, he has categorically rejected the use of firearms. In the course of the series, Kollberg developed into a radical critic of the methods and structures of the Swedish police force; towards the end of the row he leaves the police for this reason.

Gunvald Larsson

Gunvald Larsson is first assistant criminal and as such reports to Martin Beck. He originally comes from a wealthy family, but despises the decadent way of life of his relatives, which is why he first hired himself as a marine and sailor and later as a police officer. Because of his often rowdy demeanor and sometimes dubious methods, he is rather unpopular among his colleagues, especially Lennart Kollberg, and only befriended with Einar Rönn.

Fredrik Melander

Fredrik Melander initially works for the homicide squad, but is later transferred to the theft department and takes a back seat towards the end of the series. Melander is considered boring and known to spend much of his duty time on the toilet, but has a very extensive and accurate memory.

Einar Rönn

The first police assistant Einar Valentino Rönn comes from Norrland and is not considered to be an outstanding, but a competent and careful police officer. He is Gunvald Larsson's only friend on the Reich Murder Commission, but gets along rather poorly with Martin Beck.

Per Månsson

Per Månsson is a police officer in Malmö , which, in contrast to the noisy city of Stockholm, is described as calm and largely untouched by social changes. Martin Beck works with him on some cases and the two are also very close personally.

Benny Skacke

Benny Skacke is an ambitious young police officer who has set himself the goal of becoming the police chief. He initially worked for the Reich Murder Commission, but was temporarily transferred to Per Månsson in Malmö because of an assignment that he was responsible for, which almost failed.

Karl Kristiansson and Kurt Kvant

Kvant and Kristiansson are two patrol officers who always go on missions together. Kvant is talkative and impulsive, while Kristiansson is taciturn but constantly borrows money from Kvant for sports betting. Both are Schonen , not particularly servile and repeatedly violate police principles - partly out of laziness, partly due to a lack of awareness of the rules of operation - and thus hinder the investigation, whereby they feel the anger of Gunvald Larsson. They are portrayed by Sjöwall and Wahlöö as exemplary of the incompetence of the police in general, but unlike other police officers, they do not act excessively hostile. Kvant dies in the seventh volume in the series when he is shot by a police officer running amok. Kvant's successor as Kristiansson's partner will be Kenneth Kvastmo.

Film adaptations

Overview of the films

year country title Book template Leading roles
1967 Sweden Roseanna The dead woman in the Göta Canal
  • Karl Evert "Keve" Hjelm - Martin Beck
  • Gio Petré - Roseanna McGraw
  • Hans Ernback - Folke Bengtsson
1973 United States Mass Murder in San Francisco (The Laughing Policeman) End stop for nine
1976 Sweden The man on the roof (Mannen på taket) The disgust from Säffle
  • Carl-Gustaf Lindstedt - Martin Beck
  • Sven Wollter - Lennart Kollberg
  • Thomas Hellberg - Gunvald Larsson
1980 Germany
The man who vanished into thin air The man who vanished into thin air
1992 Netherlands
Beck - De gesloten kamer Locked and locked

The actors

Karl Evert "Keve" Hjelm (born June 23, 1922 Gnesta, Södermanlands län, Sweden; † February 3, 2004 Stockholm, Stockholms län, Sweden)

The successful Swedish actor was the first to cast the tired commissioner in the film Roseanna , which was made just two years after the book and was later remade with Gösta Ekman. Keve Hjelm had his last role as Karl Wallander in the Mankell film The Fifth Woman .

First series 1993/1994

In 1993 and 1994, six film adaptations of the original novels by the author couple were initially produced. The actors were Gösta Ekman as Commissioner Martin Beck, Kjell Bergqvist as Lennart Kollberg, Rolf Lassgård as Gunvald Larsson and Niklas Hjulström as Benny Skacke. The German actress Corinna Harfouch also played a role in the episode The Death Runs With . Maj Sjöwall made a small appearance in five of the six films .

The German first broadcast of The Man on the Balcony took place in July 1994 on RTL , the remaining films were shown there for the first time in October / November 1995.

number Original title German title Role of Maj Sjöwall
1 Brandbilen som försvann Alarm in Sköldgatan The lady sitting next to Beck on the plane
2 Men on balconies The man on the balcony The teacher
3 Roseanna The dead from the Göta Canal The secretary in the police station in Motala
4th Polismarians The cop killer not exactly designated
5 Polis, polis, potatismos And the big ones are let go - a father sees red ---
6th Stockholm marathon Stockholm Marathon: Death runs with you The lady with the starting pistol

The new cases

In 1997/1998 the Swedish-German co-production of a new series began, which will consist of 34 episodes by 2016. Since the films are not based on the original novels, but only on people and individual motifs from them, the series was initially marketed under the title Kommissar Beck - The New Cases , and only from the second season it was called Kommissar Beck again .

Radio plays

Between 1978 and 1995, all ten novels in the series were each produced once as a radio play on various German public radio stations.

Productions of SWF / WDR

title year Machining Director music speaker length
The dead woman in the Göta Canal 1978 Sebastian Goy , Peter Michel Ladiges Peter Michel Ladiges Hans-Martin Majewski Narrator: Rita Russek , Matthias Ponnier ; Beck: Charles Wirths ; Inga Beck: Heta Mantscheff ; Kollberg: Hubert Suschka ; Ahlberg: Herbert Stass ; Bentsson: Ernst Jacobi u. a. 60 min.
End stop for nine 1978 Sebastian Goy Peter Michel Ladiges Hans-Martin Majewski Narrator: Hans Peter Hallwachs , Matthias Ponnier; Beck: Charles Wirths; Inga Beck: Heta Manscheff; Kollberg: Hubert Suschka; Larsson: Horst Frank ; Mansson: Benno Sterzenbach ; Malm: Gert Haucke ; Rönn: Christian Brückner ; Melander: Helmut Wöstmann u. a. 110 min.
And the big ones are let go 1978 Yaak Karsunke Peter Michel Ladiges Hans-Martin Majewski Narrator: Hans Peter Hallwachs, Matthias Ponnier; Beck: Charles Wirths; Mansson: Benno Sterzenbach; Kollberg: Hubert Suschka; Larsson: Horst Frank; Rönn: Christian Brückner; Malm: Gert Haucke u. a. 108 min.
The cop killer 1978 Sebastian Goy Peter Michel Ladiges Hans-Martin Majewski Martin Beck: Charles Wirths; Lennart Kollberg: Hubert Suschka; Folke Bengtsson: Ernst Jacobi; Herrgott Nöjd: Heinz Meier ; Bertil Mård: Heinz Schimmelpfennig ; Per Mansson: Benno Sterzenbach u. a. 195 min.
The disgust from Säffle 1979 Walter Adler Klaus Wirbitzky Hans-Martin Majewski Narrator: Michael Thomas , Marianne Lochert ; Beck: Charles Wirths; Rönn: Christian Brückner; Larsson: Horst Frank; Kollberg: Herbert Fleischmann ; Melander: Helmut Wöstmann; Malm: Gert Haucke; Günther Sauer ; Eva Pflug ; Gunther Beth ; Harry Kalenberg et al. a. 50 min.
Locked and locked 1979 Richard Hey Klaus Wirbitzky Hans-Martin Majewski Narrator: Michael Thomas, Marianne Lochert; Beck: Charles Wirths; Kollberg: Herbert Fleischmann; Larsson: Horst Frank; Rönn: Christian Brückner; Zachrisson: Mogens von Gadow ; Kwastmo: Peter Heusch ; Monita: Kornelia buoy ; Mauritzon: Gernot Duda ; Man: Klaus Mehrländer ; Olsson: Helmut Brasch u. a. 99 min.
The terrorists 1979 Walter Adler Klaus Wirbitzky Hans-Martin Majewski Narrator: Hans Peter Hallwachs, Matthias Ponnier; Beck: Charles Wirths; Larsson: Horst Frank; Malm: Gert Haucke; Rönn: Christian Brückner; Nielsen: Marianne Mosa ; Skakke: Charles Brewer ; Olsson: Helmut Brasch; Kollberg: Herbert Fleischmann ; Melander: Helmut Wöstmann u. a. 48 min.

Productions of the HR / SWF

title year Machining Director speaker length
The man who vanished into thin air 1980 Peter Knorr Frank Erich Huebner Horst Michael Neutze ; Hubert Suschka; Arnold Marquis ; Sabine Postel ; Matthias Ponnier; Olaf Bison ; Karl Friedrich; Robert Seibert ; Henning Venske 61 min.
The man on the balcony 1983 Henning Venske Henning Venske Bodo Primus ; Kornelia buoy; Peter Bauer; Lieselotte Bettin ; Rolf Beuckert ; Edgar M. Bohlke ; Wilfried Elste ; Sophie Engelke ; Arma's antennae 59 min.

Production by NDR

title year Editing / direction music speaker length
Alarm in Sköldgatan 1995 Peter M. Ladiges Hans-M. Majewski Narrator: Matthias Ponnier; Beck: Horst Mendroch ; Larsson: Matthias Fuchs ; Kolberg: Günter lamp ; Rönn: Uli Krohm ; Zachrisson: Edgar Hoppe ; Melander: Ulli Lothmanns 45 min.


The band Endstation für nine won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for best crime novel in 1971.


Henning Mankell influenced the series of novels in the elaboration of his eleven-part crime series with the main character Kurt Wallander . Maj Sjöwall said in 2005 as follows: “Henning Mankell is someone who has orientated himself on our characters. He sent me his first book with a dedication; 'Thanks for the inspirations'. ”However, her enthusiasm for the adaptation was limited:“ Mankell's books only describe the state of society. The grievances he points out are so clear that everyone can see them. He also pretends to portray realistically. But he is overbearing, very brutal and writes without humor. "

Individual evidence

  3. Die Tote im Götakanal Verlag Volk u. Welt 1981, translated by Johannes Carstensen, supplemented by Werner Hennig