Sjöwall (born 1935) and her husband Per Wahlöö
(1926-75) transformed what was an overtly conservative and
cosy genre in their home country into a radicalized vehicle
for social criticism and left-wing political commentary, making
realism, society, politics the by-words of the Swedish police
procedural. Their ten novels all subtitled 'novel about
a crime' appeared in the '60s and '70s about Inspector
Martin Beck and his team of investigators in Stockholm, although
there is regular input from colleagues in Malmö.
Ironically, although they did indeed update the detective
story, their intentions were not to update the genre but to
hijack it, to gain a wide audience and specific platform for
their political views. They had a clear plan and clear aims
and intentions before writing their ten police procedurals.
Part of the plan was to usher their political agenda in gradually.
"From the beginning we planned it that our mask would
begin to fall from around the fourth or fifth book",
says Per Wahlöö. The last books reflect a criticism
of the development of the police force towards greater centralization,
and the appearance of a more military set-up. The increasing
criticism of society is partly shown in an increase in direct
comment by the omniscient third-person narrator. Social criticism
and political comment is also introduced through the changing
type of crimes and criminals they choose to depict. Initially
the criminals in their novels are fairly conventional for
the genre and readers are only introdcued to a fairly shadowy
picture of them. Yet by the later books, we meet them as individuals
and become aware of their social problems.
At a time when realism and documentarism were in vogue in
mainstream literature in Sweden, Sjöwall and Wahlöö
bring to the detective novel an added realism. They carried
out careful research before embarking on their project and
they have clearly benefited from Per Wahlöö's experience
as a crime reporter in Stockholm.
Sjöwall and Wahlöö's books have appeared in
at least 25 different countries and in numerous translations.