Jeffrey Keeten's Reviews > Roseanna

Roseanna by Maj Sjöwall
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bookshelves: nordic-noir

"He looked tired and his sunburned skin seemed yellowish in the gray light. His face was lean with a broad forehead and a strong jaw. His mouth, under his short, straight nose, was thin and wide with two deep lines near the corners. When he smiled, you could see his healthy, white teeth. His dark hair was combed straight back from the even hairline and had not yet begun to gray. The look in his soft blue eyes was clear and calm. He was thin but not especially tall and somewhat round-shouldered. Some women would say he was good looking but most of them would see him as quite ordinary. He dressed in a way that would draw no attention. If anything, his clothes were a little too discreet."

And thus I was introduced to the Swedish detective Martin Beck. As you can see from that description, he is unassuming. He catches every cold, every flu bug, coffee makes him sick, but he drinks it, and riding the subway makes him nauseous, and yet he has to ride it. When he isn't sick he is melancholy on the verge of depression. He works massive hours for a combination of reasons mainly that he is obsessed by his cases and his marriage is on the skids. He married the woman that he wanted mainly because she was happy, an antidote to his sad nature. Once she had kids, like what happens with most people, she changed. It comes back to the old argument of whether men or women are crazier, the women that marry men thinking they can change them or the men that marry women thinking they are going to stay the same.

When Beck is home he works on a model ship allowing his mind to freely roam over his caseload. His kids are just background noise to his life. He doesn't seem to be interested in them. They are just symptoms to the disease of his failed marriage.

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Lake Vattern

The crime that is the basis of this novel involves the brutal murder and rape of an American tourist from Nebraska, Roseanna McGraw. Her body is fished out of Lake Vattern, and though the case belongs to a small town police district in Motala, due to the nature of the crime, a team of detectives including Beck are sent to assist. He meets a kindred spirit in the Detective Alhberg from Motala. They both obsess over cases and as no clues present themselves in the case of Roseanna they keep calling each other with meaningless information, in an attempt to stir the brain cells, as the case lingers unsolved for months.

The interest part for me was the police procedure part of the process. They enlist the help of a Detective Kafka from Lincoln, Nebraska who interviews former lovers and acquaintances of the deceased. This new information is presented to the reader as transcripts of the conversations. Because the crime is a sex crime it required that the detective ask very personal questions of the satellite people around Roseanna. Beck also has to ask some very uncomfortable questions on his end of the investigation as he interviews people connected to his suspect. We are exposed to the humdrum nature of police work as the detectives wait patiently for any kind of new clue that will spur more action. The writers do manage to build the tension as Beck is sure he has his guy. Beck, running out of resources and time, comes up with a desperate plan to try and catch his suspect. Beck operates off of intuition, and so he makes leaps of logic without proof. The book felt very authentic and the writing was crisp and clean.

Henning Mankell wrote the introduction and he probably should be sending Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo a royalty check for each new Kurt Wallander book or movie deal because Kurt Wallander is without a doubt based off of the character Martin Beck. Wallander certainly annoys me more than Beck. I do feel at times like grabbing Kurt by the shoulders and giving him a good shake. He is just so inconceivably depressed all the time that it does start to feel like self-indulgent behavior. With Beck I felt more sympathetic with his plight. I have hopes that as the series progresses that he at least attempts to find a way to be happy.

With Martin Beck and Kurt Wallander providing my main exposure to Swedish culture I could get the impression that they are a depressed nation. I checked to see where Sweden falls on the list of depressed countries and they don't even break the top twenty. Suicide rates in Sweden land them at 30th in the world, certainly not high enough to make one think that everyone is suicidal in Sweden. If they are a melancholy nation they certainly don't feel the need to take that last slow walk out into the woods and eat a bullet.

Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo were a common law marriage team that wrote ten Martin Beck novels. They conceived an outline together for each book and then wrote alternating chapters. The book was seamless. I didn't find myself experiencing a difference of style leaving one chapter and starting another. I wonder if that was blended by the translation or if they really did have complimentary styles of writing.

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Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo

I will certainly read another Martin Beck. Vintage Crime/Black Lizard have reissued the series in attractive matching trade paperbacks that encourage the reader to want to own them all.
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Reading Progress

September 2, 2012 – Started Reading
September 2, 2012 – Shelved
September 4, 2012 – Finished Reading
February 9, 2015 – Shelved as: nordic-noir

Comments Showing 1-50 of 50 (50 new)

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Toby pretty cover on this version Jeffrey. I hope the book works for you.


Kris I really like this series - looking forward to your review!


Jeffrey Keeten Kat wrote: "Jeffrey wrote: "When Beck is home he works on a model ship allowing his mind to freely roam over his caseload. His kids are just background noise to his life. He doesn't seem to be interested in th..."

Thanks Kat. My kids have televisions in their rooms, computers, ereaders, video games, iPhones and Netflix. They are busy with sports, band, and clubs. They barely need us except to pay the bills. We are busy as well with stressful jobs, plus maintaining rental units, and trying to attend as many of their events as we can. There is marriage before kids, marriage with kids, and then marriage after kids have left the home and you hope when you finally have time for each other that you still like each other.


Kris Great review as always, Jeffrey. I devoured this series last summer. As you mentioned, it's fascinating to see the myriad ways in which this series influenced later Swedish detective stories. I agree that the series incorporates procedural issues seamlessly into the narrative. I also was drawn to the sociological elements in the novels - very well executed introduction to social and political issues confronting Swedish society at the time the novels were written. As a whole, a novel in which every word counts.


Jeffrey Keeten Kris wrote: "Great review as always, Jeffrey. I devoured this series last summer. As you mentioned, it's fascinating to see the myriad ways in which this series influenced later Swedish detective stories. I agr..."

I've seen political issues used in relation to this series before, but I didn't feel it was political. Maybe the books get more political as they go. Thanks Kris.


Kris Yes, the political aspects become much more prevalent as you move through the series.


message 7: by Will (last edited Sep 07, 2012 03:28AM) (new)

Will Byrnes I slit the envelope with an opener as sharp as my new secretary, deftly cutting the soft skin between thumb and forefinger. In the lower desk drawer is a bottle of a brown substance claiming to be whiskey. It was no big trick to pull out, reach in and twist off the cap. I had had lots of practice. Holding the hand over a garbage can that had seen worse I poured. Yeah, it stung. I used the non-stinging hand to dig for the handkerchief in my back pocket, unused, thank god, and wiped. I held it tight to soak up the bleeding, made proper use of Kentucky's finest, filling my mouth, swished it around, gargled a beat and swallowed, then finally managed a look at the paper. It had landed, surprisingly, on the desk, type-side up. I knew who it was from and what it held. Another goddam great book review from that dodgy bastard Keeten. Text to examine, pictures to interpret. There would be clues aplenty here. It was gonna be a long night.


message 8: by Jeffrey (last edited Sep 07, 2012 07:33AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jeffrey Keeten Will wrote: "I slit the envelope with an opener as sharp as my new secretary, deftly cutting the soft skin between thumb and forefinger. In the lower desk drawer is a bottle of a brown substance claiming to be ..."

I knew that seedy Private Eye Byrnes had been on my case for a while. As my secretary sashayed her way into my office with a glass of bourbon in one hand and the Robert Silverberg file in the other I thought about Byrnes's secretary, that grimace surrounded by a shovel face, and her attitude...lacking only a rattle on her tail from resembling a trapped rattlesnake. I shuddered as my secretary rolled her round hip up on the corner of my desk. She presented me with a shapely knee for a friendly pat. Pat,pat,pat. She leaned over and gave me a friendly slap. Ah yes the games we play.

"What have you heard about Brynes and the Roseanna review?"

"He's asking questions." She said.

"Yeah? Is he finding out anything?"

"What's to know?" She said in her best Jessica Rabbit voice.

"Nothing, baby, nothing at all. I'm just naturally curious." I could feel that nervous tick start to pull at my cheek.

"Well you better nail that Silverberg review or he will be doing more than asking a few questions."

"Thanks for the pep talk Kitten, could you bring me another one of these." I drained the last of the amber from the glass. "I'm going to need it if I'm going to be relaxed enough to do us any good on Silverberg."
As I watched my secretary's hips make music as she walked over to the bourbon decanter I couldn't help wondering what Byrnes was up to.


Bibliophile Nice review Jeffrey. Makes me want to re-read the book (can't remember now why I didn't like it that much). And you actually checked the depression and suicide rates in Sweden! That doesn't happen too often I bet, most people are happy enough with stereotypes. As a Swede I can confirm that we're not that gloomy. So glad you're fact checking :)


Jeffrey Keeten Bibliophile wrote: "Nice review Jeffrey. Makes me want to re-read the book (can't remember now why I didn't like it that much). And you actually checked the depression and suicide rates in Sweden! That doesn't happen ..."

Thanks Bibliophile! good books always inspire a bit more research from me. I just found it hard to believe that there were all these gloomy Swedes. If I might ask, who are your favorite Swedish writers?


Jeffrey Keeten Chelsea wrote: "Don't stop now! Looks like you two guys have a thriller in the making. :-)"

Will is just too damn cool!


message 12: by Steve (new)

Steve I like the review, and I like the creative comments you and Will traded. It's not hard imagining either one of you writing for publication.


Jeffrey Keeten Steve wrote: "I like the review, and I like the creative comments you and Will traded. It's not hard imagining either one of you writing for publication."

Thanks Steve!That was such a nice surprise to find Will's little ditty.


message 14: by Will (new)

Will Byrnes Thanks guys. We take our fun where we find it.


Bibliophile Jeffrey wrote: "Thanks Bibliophile! good books always inspire a bit more research from me. I just found it hard to believe that there were all these gloomy Swedes. If I might ask, who are your favorite Swedish writers?"

I don't really read Swedish fiction anymore. Went through the classics growing up and now I'm done :) Don't enjoy the current crime writers. The two authors I'd recommend are Hjalmar Söderberg who wrote the wonderful and heartbreaking The Serious Game, and poet Tomas Tranströmer. Melancholy stuff, borderline gloomy ;)


message 16: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue Great review Jeffrey and wonderful interchange with Will.

Do you watch Wallender on PBS? There was a new one last night with a couple of small smiles on Kurt's face--spoiled by the ensuing story of course. I wonder if a go around with ECT would help him. He blames his job but...


Jeffrey Keeten Sue wrote: "Great review Jeffrey and wonderful interchange with Will.

Do you watch Wallender on PBS? There was a new one last night with a couple of small smiles on Kurt's face--spoiled by the ensuing story o..."


Thank you Sue. Will is a gem. I do watch Wallander, but our PBS here didn't put Wallander on until 10:30PM and after a long day we just couldn't commit to watching it last night. I will watch it though.

I'm also curious about the episodes done in Swedish. I wish Netflix had those on Instant instead of discs.

Kurt seems like a guy that could use a good jolt. I've only read a couple of the books I need to shoehorn a Henning Mankill into my reading diet soon.


message 18: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue I agree about reading Mankell. I'm trying to read the "first of's" various mystery series., and this is one of them.


message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

Jeffrey. As always you do a marvelous job of sharing just the right details to make me notice a book. Your selection of information about the melancholy Swede really hooked me. I have never heard of this series, but I know I would love it. I certainly would not argue with your research, but I know I saw a 60 Minutes segment with Morley Safer in which he portrayed Sweden as one of the most depressed people. I am sure I would enjoy this series not just for the characters but for Sweden itself, which I find to be a fascinating country. Funny how the authors chose Midwest connection. It could have just as easily been OK or KS.


Jeffrey Keeten Steve wrote: "Jeffrey. As always you do a marvelous job of sharing just the right details to make me notice a book. Your selection of information about the melancholy Swede really hooked me. I have never heard o..."

You know, when I google searched for depressed nations I fully expected to find Sweden near the top, but was surprised to find that they seem to have a normal level of depression based on the studies that have been done that I could find. I might dig up that segment by Morley Safer and add what he discovered to this review or my next review involving Martin Beck or Kurt Wallander. Thank you Steve.


Leajk "but I know I saw a 60 Minutes segment with Morley Safer in which he portrayed Sweden as one of the most depressed people." This is such an old cliche that's been going around about Sweden. One theory for the establishment of this myth is that Swedish people and staticians were not as troubled by reporting deaths as suicides, especially since it's a very secular country.


Jeffrey Keeten Leajk wrote: ""but I know I saw a 60 Minutes segment with Morley Safer in which he portrayed Sweden as one of the most depressed people." This is such an old cliche that's been going around about Sweden. One the..."

That's interesting, so officials being more honest about calling a suicide a suicide might be a reason why their suicide rates might be higher? Good stuff Leajk. Thanks.


message 23: by Mala (new) - added it

Mala Jeffrey wrote: "Kat wrote: "Jeffrey wrote: "When Beck is home he works on a model ship allowing his mind to freely roam over his caseload. His kids are just background noise to his life. He doesn't seem to be inte..."

Yes,this was the comment! It's sad but I appreciate it cos it's so real & then your thoughts on it!


message 24: by Dolors (last edited Sep 04, 2013 10:37AM) (new)

Dolors How good to find a link to this review which I missed while on holiday...

"Henning Mankell wrote the introduction and he probably should be sending Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo a royalty check for each new Kurt Wallander book or movie deal because Kurt Wallander is without a doubt based off of the character Martin Beck."

You are a well of wisdom Jeffrey, I had always thought that Mankell was king of crime writing and that his famous Kurt Wallander was an "original".
Good to know, I have a new series to buy for next Christmas. Informative and thrilling review!


Jeffrey Keeten Dolors wrote: "How good to find a link to this review which I missed while on holiday...

"Henning Mankell wrote the introduction and he probably should be sending Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo a royalty check for e..."


Thank you Miss Dolors! I too found Kurt Wallander first and only after meeting Martin Beck did I realize that Kurt had a "father" in literature. So do you give lists of books to friends and family at Christmas? My friends and family seem to muck up the whole book buying thing as they are about as comfortable in a bookshop as I am in a biker bar. Finally we settled on a gift cards as the best solution.


message 26: by Dolors (last edited Sep 04, 2013 05:12PM) (new)

Dolors Jeffrey wrote: "My friends and family seem to muck up the whole book buying thing as they are about as comfortable in a bookshop as I am in a biker bar."

Ha! You simply rock, Mr. Keeten.
And it seems that avid readers tend to be rather isolated people, that's also my case, except for my dad, who devours all kind of thrillers and detectivesque novels. I was thinking about him when I posted my comment, and I already have his present for next Christmas... thanks to you! :)


Harry Jeffrey wrote: "It comes back to the old argument of whether men or women are crazier, the women that marry men thinking they can change them or the men that marry women thinking they are going to stay the same. "

Too funny, Jeffrey. Great review, as always, and right on target too! Oh, you do know the Swedish series of wallander is on Netflix (noticed that comment above), right?


Jeffrey Keeten Harry wrote: "Jeffrey wrote: "It comes back to the old argument of whether men or women are crazier, the women that marry men thinking they can change them or the men that marry women thinking they are going to ..."

Yes, this is an older review that is recycling, I have them on my queue to watch, but have not started them yet. Tomorrow night will be the debut in the Keeten household. I will send you a message with an assessment of the first episode.


Cassio Queiros Great review, Mr.Keeten. Congratulations.


Jeffrey Keeten Cassio wrote: "Great review, Mr.Keeten. Congratulations."

Thank you Cassio!


message 31: by Christine (new)

Christine What an incredibly informative review, Jeffrey! Would like to try this series.


Jeffrey Keeten Christine wrote: "What an incredibly informative review, Jeffrey! Would like to try this series."

You should. Excellent series!


message 33: by David Ignutius (new)

David Ignutius be my friend please


message 34: by Ivonne (new)

Ivonne Rovira I love your review so much. I started this book and, almost immediately, abandoned it. Now I see I have to give it another chance.


Jeffrey Keeten Ivonne wrote: "I love your review so much. I started this book and, almost immediately, abandoned it. Now I see I have to give it another chance."

You should! Unless you just don't like books set in Europe. My mother-in-law refuses to read anything European or set on the West Coast or East Coast. She lives in Texas so that might be self-explanatory. :-) Thanks Ivonne!


Supriya So apt Jeffery “It comes back to the old argument of whether men or women are crazier, the women that marry men thinking they can change them or the men that marry women thinking they are going to stay the same. "
I loved the review you wrote.Personally I found the narration a bit stilted initially and then sudden realization dawned on me...thats Scandinavian fiction!! And this is why I liked the book.


Jeffrey Keeten Supriya wrote: "So apt Jeffery “It comes back to the old argument of whether men or women are crazier, the women that marry men thinking they can change them or the men that marry women thinking they are going to ..."

Indeed Supriya! Translations are tricky. I plan to read the rest of the series for sure. I just love my Nordic Noir. Thanks! I'm glad you felt that click in the head that allowed you to enjoy the book.


Diane Barnes This is my local book club assignment for November. The member who chose it always assigns the first title of a mystery series. Her son married a Norwegian woman, and as a result we're getting a lot of Nordic suggestions from her these days. I'm glad this popped up on my feed today. Knowing you liked it gives me hope that I will as well.


message 39: by Vessey (last edited Oct 30, 2017 08:31AM) (new) - added it

Vessey Thank you for this lovely review! I'll list it


Jeffrey Keeten Diane wrote: "This is my local book club assignment for November. The member who chose it always assigns the first title of a mystery series. Her son married a Norwegian woman, and as a result we're getting a lo..."

I love Nordic mysteries. If you don't like European mysteries you might need to find a different book club. :-) I hope you like this one!


Jeffrey Keeten Vessey wrote: "Thank you for this lovely review!"

You are welcome!


message 42: by Lara (new)

Lara Watching a tv show on PBS right now they are talking about Martin Beck and interviewing people some in Stockholm.. Someone mentioned reading Roseanne which led me here to your marvelous review..


Jeffrey Keeten Lara wrote: "Watching a tv show on PBS right now they are talking about Martin Beck and interviewing people some in Stockholm.. Someone mentioned reading Roseanne which led me here to your marvelous review.."

I need to get back to Martin Beck. There are 10 wonderful installments. Thank you Lara! I hope you enjoy meeting Mr. Beck.


David Highton All the Martin Beck books are great


Jeffrey Keeten I’m not surprised to hear that David!


message 46: by Pina (new) - added it

Pina Baker I've just read an article in this mornings travel section of the paper about a walking tour in Sweden based on the tvs series The Killing and The Bridge. The article mentioned Maj Sjowaller and Per Wahloo as the 'inventors' of Scandi /Noir fiction with Roseanne as the first in a series of books. This has brought me here to your fabulous review and the beginning of my next reading series! So excited to start. Thanks for the excellent review and even a provision of a map.


Jeffrey Keeten Pina wrote: "I've just read an article in this mornings travel section of the paper about a walking tour in Sweden based on the tvs series The Killing and The Bridge. The article mentioned Maj Sjowaller and Per..."

You most welcome Pina! You are in for an enjoyable stay in Sweden as the guest of Sjowaller and Wahloo. Thank you for the kind words!


message 48: by Mike (new)

Mike I've been picking up the books in this series over the past several years based on Kid Intuitions insistence. Looks like he was right again. Will look forward to this one.

Terrific review, Jeffrey.


Jeffrey Keeten Mike wrote: "I've been picking up the books in this series over the past several years based on Kid Intuitions insistence. Looks like he was right again. Will look forward to this one.

Terrific review, Jeffrey."


I do the same. Every so often I just tuck one I'm missing on a book order. Thanks Mike!


message 50: by zod (new)

zod interesting


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