Review: Roseanna

RoseannaMaj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, Roseanna (trans. Lois Roth)

This book begins in the summer of 1965, when a dead body is dredged up from the bottom of a Swedish lake. The corpse is female and naked, with no clothing, jewelry, or personal effects of any kind. The police determine that she was raped and strangled to death, but they have absolutely no clue as to her identity, much less the murderer’s. Police inspector Martin Beck launches an investigation with the help of his colleagues; after weeks of diligent searching, they are able to identify the woman as Roseanna McGraw, an American woman who was touring Sweden by cruise. Slowly, Beck and the other policemen begin to piece together Roseanna’s final days, and with help from the American police, they are able to learn something about her character as well. Beck gradually begins to form an opinion about the personality of the murderer, and sifting through the scanty data gives him a specific suspect. But due to the lack of hard evidence in the case, Beck and his colleagues must set a daring, and dangerous, trap.

I’m a big fan of the mystery genre in general, but I tend to gravitate toward mysteries in which the reader is able to solve the crime right alongside the detective. This book is definitely not like that, but it offers a fascinating alternative perspective on what a mystery novel can be. The focus isn’t on the victim’s character or on a list of potential suspects who can be eliminated one by one; rather, it’s a very realistic portrayal of how police investigations actually work, with all the tedium and frustration and dead ends they entail. One detail I loved is how the case actually took the policemen months to solve, and how they were also working on other cases in the meantime. Interestingly, Beck’s personality is basically irrelevant, and we don’t learn much about him even though this is the first book in “his” series. Crime-solving is much more of a communal endeavor in this novel than it is in the (predominantly) British and American mysteries I’ve read — indicating a broader cultural difference, I suspect! Be that as it may, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to mystery lovers, even though it was a departure from my normal reading experience.

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