the story of a crime redux

Maxine points us toward an interview with Maj Sjowall, who with Per Wahloo wrote the ten-book Martin Beck series. It details their collaboration and their relationship, as well as the sad death of Wahloo at an early age. He was just able to finish the final book in the series that they planned together, one that would chronicle their disillusionment with the Swedish state, with the ten books together telling an overarching “story of a crime” which was “society’s abandonment of the working classes.”

We wanted to describe society from our left point of view. Per had written political books, but they’d only sold 300 copies. We realised that people read crime and through the stories we could show the reader that under the official image of welfare-state Sweden there was another layer of poverty, criminality and brutality. We wanted to show where Sweden was heading: towards a capitalistic, cold and inhuman society, where the rich got richer, the poor got poorer.

And she feels they charted the direction things were going accurately. “”Everything we feared happened, faster. People think of themselves not as human beings but consumers. The market rules and it was not that obvious in the 1960s, but you could see it coming.” When asked whether the project failed she laughs. “It failed. Of course it did. The problem was that the people who read our books already thought the same as us. Nothing changed – we changed our lives, that’s all.” Though they may not have changed society, they did change the course of crime fiction.

Sjowall lives modestly and though she continues to earn some money from royalties, she says she can’t afford a car and doesn’t mind because she’s happy with her life and feels unencumbered. One can’t help contrast her seeming contentment with the nasty squabble over the proceeds of Stieg Larsson’s estate.

It’s quite a touching and informative interview that benefits from the interviewer’s great fondness for the Martin Beck series.

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