Mannen som gick upp i rök, by spouses Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, was first published in 1966. It was translated into English by Joan Tate as The Man Who Went Up in Smoke, in 1969. It was the second book in the “Martin Beck Mystery” series.
The first sentence is: “The room was small and shabby.”
The first chapter is amazing. It begins with detailed descriptions of a crime scene. The victim lies dead on the floor. Then it’s revealed that these are descriptions of photographs of a crime scene. The photographs are being examined by Inspector Martin Beck. He and the rest of the Stockholm Homicide Squad are discussing convicting the suspect on technical evidence. Martin Beck enters the interrogation room just as the suspect begins confessing to the crime. What seemed, at first, to be the beginning of a murder mystery is actually the conclusion of one. The first chapter ends on page 8 with Martin Beck leaving on his month-long vacation.
Martin Beck takes a ferry out to an island in the Stockholm Archipelago, where his wife and family have already started their vacation. Less than one day into his vacation, Martin Beck is called back into Stockholm, where Chief Inspector Hammar tells him to meet with a man at the Foreign Office.
The man at the Foreign Office tells Martin Beck that a journalist named Alf Matsson vanished ten days earlier, while on assignment in Budapest. The magazine that employed Alf Matsson doesn’t want an official investigation, in order to kept its exclusive rights to the story. The Foreign Office is afraid of the impact from a story about a Swedish journalist disappearing while in Hungary. Martin Beck is offered the assignment of working for the Foreign Office, just long enough to discreetly find Alf Matsson. Of course, he’d have to postpone his vacation.
Over the angry objections of his wife, Martin Beck cuts his vacation short and accepts the impossible task of finding a man who went up in smoke. He doesn’t care about the assignment, and he doesn’t care about Alf Matsson. Martin Beck accepted the assignment only because of his “policeman’s soul”.
The Man Who Went Up in Smoke is a good, old-fashioned mystery. While Martin Beck is in Budapest, undercover, claiming he was looking for a missing friend, it also felt a little like an international espionage thriller. It’s a story of detailed clues and observations.
I enjoyed this book a lot. I had no trouble jumping into the series, while not having read the previous book.
Why I chose this book:
I found this novel while I was doing an internet search for “Nordic noir”. I found a lot of choices, including The Man Who Went Up in Smoke. I’d never heard of Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö, or Martin Beck. It was obvious that finding Nordic noir would be a lot easier than finding a book with two authors. This book was the first one I put on my “For Later” library self, for the 2018 Reading Challenge, and the search for Nordic noir continued.