According to Per Wahloo, the ten books he wrote with his wife, Maj Sjowall, about Inspector Martin Beck were intended to be a left-wing assault on the sacred cows of Swedish society. They are also, however, entertaining tales of mystery that allow non-Swedes to slip under the skin of another culture while having a frighteningly good time. In this first book of the series, the body of a young woman is discovered as a dredger digs a canal. There seems to be little chance of Beck identifying the woman, let alone discovering who killed her. But by combining time-honored methods of police procedure with a few local twists, Beck manages to do just that.
They found the corpse on the eighth of July just after three o'clock in the afternoon. It was fairly well intact and couldn't have been lying in the water very long.Actually, it was mere chance that they found the body at all. And finding it so quickly should have aided the police investigation.Below the locks at Borenshult there is a breakwater which protects the entrance to the lake from the east wind. When the canal opened for traffic that spring, the channel had begun to clogup. The boats had a hard time maneuvering and their propellers churned up thick clouds of yellowish mud from the bottom. It wasn't hard to see that something had to be done. As early as May, the Canal Company requisitioned a dredging machine from the Civil Engineering Board. The papers were passed from one perplexed civil servant to another and finally remitted to the Swedish National Shipping and Navigation Administration. The Shipping and Navigation Administration thought that work should be done by one of the Civil Engineering Board. The papers were passed from one perplexed civil servant to another and finally remitted to the Swedish National Shipping and Navigation Administration. The Shipping and Navigation Administration thought that the work should be done by one of the Civil Engineering Board's bucket dredging machines. But the Civil Engineering Board found that the Shipping and Navigation Administration had control over bucket dredging machines and in desperation made and appeal to the Harbor Commission in Norrkoping which immediately returned the papers to the Shipping and Navigation Administration, which remitted them to the Civil Engineering Board at which point someone picked up the telephone and dialed an engineer who knew all about bucket dredging machines. He knew that of the five existing bucket dredgers, there was only one that could pass through the locks. The vessel was called The Pig and happened just then to be lying in the fishing harbor at Gravarne. On the morning of July 5 The Pig arrived and moored at Borenshult as the neighborhood children and a Vietnamese tourist looked on.One hour later a representative of the Canal Company went on board to discuss the project. That took the whole afternoon. The next day was Saturday and vessel remained by the breakwater while the men went home for the weekend. The crew consisted of a dredging foreman, who was also the officer in command wit the authority to take the vessel to sea, an excavating engineer, and a deck man. The latter two men were from Gothenburg and took the night train from Motala. The skipper lived in Nacka and his wife came go get him in their car. At seven o'clock on Monday morning all three were pm board again and one hour later they began to dredge. By eleven o'clock the hold was full later they began to dredge. By eleven o'clcock the hold was full and the dredger went out into the lake to dump. On the way back they had to lay off and wait while a white steamboat approached the Boren locks in a westerly direction. Foreign tourists crowded along the vessel's railing and waved excitedly at the working crew on the dredger. The passenger boat was elevated slowly up the locks toward Motala and lake Vottern and by lunch time its top pennant had disappeared in back of the uppermost sluice gat. At one-thirty the men began to dredge again.The situation was this: the weather was warm and beautiful with mild temperature winds and idly moving summer clouds. There were some people on the breakwater and on the edge of the canal. Most of them were sunning themselves, a few were fishing, and two or three were watching the dredging activity. The dredger's bucket had just gobbled up out of the water. The excavating engineer was operating the familiar handgrips in his cabin. The dredging foreman was having a cup of coffee in the galley, and the deck man stood with his having elbows on the railing and spit in the water. The bucket was still on the way up.As it broke through the surface of the water, a man on the pier took a few steps toward the boat. He waved his arms and shouted something. The deck man looked up to hear better."There's someone in the bucket! Stop! Someone's lying in the bucket!"The confused deck man looked first at the man and then at the bucket which slowly swung in over the hold to spit out its contents. Filthy gray water streamed out of the bucket as it hung over the hold. Then the deck man saw what the man on the breakwater had seen. A white, naked arm stuck out of the bucket's jaw.The next ten minutes seemed endless and chaotic. Someone stood on the pier and said, over and over again: "Don't do anything; don't touch anything; leave everything alone until the police come. . . "The excavating engineer came out to see what was going on. He stared, then hurried back to the relative security of his seat behind the leavers. As the let the crane swing and the bucket open, the dredging foreman and the deck man took out the body.It was a woman. They excavating engineer came out to see what was going on. He started, then hurried back to the relative security of his seat behind the leavers. As the let the crane swing and the bucket open, the dredging foreman and the deck man took out the body.It was a woman. They laid her on her back on a folded tarpaulin out on the breakwater. A group of amazed people gathered around and stared at her. Some of them were children and shouldn't have been there but no one thought to sent them away. But all of them had one thing in common: they would never forget how she looked.The deck man had thrown three buckets of water over her. Long afterwards, when the police inquiry was bogged down, there were people who criticized him for this.She was naked and had no jewelry on. The lines of her tan made it apparent that she had sunbathed in a bikini. Her hips were broad and she had heavy things. Her pubic hair was black and wet and thick. Her breasts were small and slack with large, dark nipples. A red scratch ran from her waist to her hipbone. The rest of her skin was smooth without spots or scars. She had small hands and feet and her nails were not polished. Her face was swollen and it was hard to imaging how she had actually looked alive. She had thick, dark eyebrows and her mouth seemed wide. Her medium-length hair was dark and lay flat on her head. A coil of hair lay across her throat.Motala is a medium-sized Swedish city in the province of Ostergotland at the northern end of Lake Vattern. It has a population of 27,000. Its highest police authority is a Commissioner of Police who is also the Public Prosecutor. He has a Police Superintendent under him who is the chief executive of both the regular police constabulary and the criminal police. His staff also includes a First Detective Inspector in the ninth salary grade, six policemen and one policewoman. One of the policemen is a trained photographer and when medical examinations are needed they usually fall back on one of the city's doctors.One hour after the first alarm, several of these people had gathered on the pier at Borenshult, several yards from the harbor light. It was rather crowded around the corpse and the men on the dredger could no longer see what was happening. They were still on board in spite of the fact that the vessel was prepared to make way with its port bow against the breakwater.The number of people behind the police barricade on the abutment had increased tenfold. On the other side of the canal there were several cars, four of which belonged to the police, and a white-painted ambulance with red crosses on the back doors. Two me in white overalls leaned against a fender smoking. They seemed to be the only people who weren't interested in the group out by the harbor light.On the breakwater the doctor began to gather his things together. He chatted wit the Superintended who was a tall, gray-haired man named Larsson."There isn't much I can say about it now." Said the doctor."Does she have to remain lying here? Larsson asked."Isn't that more your business," replied the doctor."This is hardly the scene of the crime.""Okay," the doctor agreed, "She that they drive her to the mortuary. I'll telephone ahead."He shut his bag and left.The Superintendent turned and called, "Ahlberg, You're going to keep the area blocked off, aren't you?""Yes, damn it."The Commissioner of Police hadn't said anything out by the harbor light. He didn't usually enter investigations in the early stages. But on the way in to town, he said: "You'll keep me informed."Larsson didn't even bother to nod."You'll keep Ahlberg on it?""Ahlberg's good man," said the Superintendent."Yes, of course."The conversation ended. They arrived, left the car and went into their separate officers. The Commissioner placed a telephone call to the Country Authority in Linkoping who merely said: "I'll be waiting to hear from you."The Superintendent had a short conversation wit Ahlberg. "We have to find out who she is.""Yes," said Ahlberg.He went into his office, called the Fire Department and requisitioned tow frogmen. Then he read through a report on a burglary in the harbor. That one would be cleared up soon. Ahlberg got up and went to the officer on duty."Is there anyone reported missing?""No.""No notification of missing persons?"He went back of his office and waited.The call came after fifteen minutes."We have to ask for an autopsy," said the doctor."Was she strangled.""Raped?""I think so."The doctor paused a second. Then he said: "And pretty methodically, too."Ahlberg bit on his index fingernail. He thought of his vacation which was to begain of Friday and how happy his wife was about it.The doctor misinterpreted the silence."Are you surprised?""No," said Ahlberg.He hung up and went into Larsson's office. Then they went to the Commissioner's office togetherTen minutes later the Commissioner asked for a medico-legal post-mortem examination from the Country Administrator who contacted the ...