The ten novels in the Martin Beck series, written by husband-and-wife team Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall, chronicle the activities of the Stockholm homicide squad from 1965—the year in which the Swedish police force was nationalized—to 1975. Conceived as one epic novel, Beck’s story was written and published at the rate of one installment per year—documenting the exact happenings of the years in which they were composed, down to flight numbers and departure times, political events, and the weather.
The books trace the changes in the police force and its relationship to Swedish society as well as the personal lives of the homicide detectives themselves. Marked by dry humor and painstaking attention to detail, they capture both the interplay among the principal characters and the exhaustive amounts of routine research that go into solving a crime. Writing in a detached, clinical style, Sjöwall and Wahlöö paint a portrait of Sweden in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s as a bourgeois welfare state in which crime is steadily on the rise and the police are seen increasingly by the public as tools of the government rather than as allies of the people. Using the crime novel as a mirror of the ills of the socialist state, Sjöwall and Wahlöö transformed the genre into a vehicle for addressing wrongs, rather than diffusing social anxiety. Until their work, the police procedural had been little appreciated in Sweden; the Beck series influenced Swedish successors such as K. Arne Blom, Olov Svedelid, Kennet Ahl, and Leif G. W. Persson to adopt a similar approach of social awareness.