On a cold, rainy November night in 1967, when Stockholm is witnessing protests against America’s Vietnam War, nine people on a bus are gunned down by an unknown assailant. One of the victims is young detective Ake Stenstrom sitting beside a young nurse. Was it the handiwork of a madman or a mass murderer was on prowl? And what was Stenstrom doing on the bus?
The book opens with Martin Beck playing chess with colleague Kollberg in the latter’s flat when protests were going on outside American embassy against Lyndon Johnson and the war in Vietnam. While police are busy crushing the protests, nine people on a bus are murdered on the outskirts of Stockholm. The first to reach the scene are patrolmen Kristiansson and Kvant, who mess up the crime scene in their haste obliterating the clues.
The police are left with a jumbled crime scene and a fatally injured passenger who regain consciousness only for a few seconds in hospital before succumbing to death. The only conversation police manage to get out of him is –
Who did the shooting?
What did he look like?
The police are clueless and facing deadlock after the drudgery of a long investigation involving crime reconstruction, interviewing the families and friends of victims. While searching Stenstrom’s desk, Beck finds nude photographs of his girlfriend. Why has Stenstrom taken them? And why put them in his desk drawer at office? After talking with his girlfriend, Beck and his team realise that Stenstrom was secretly working on a 17 year old unsolved case involving an oversexed woman. The police are also working on a parallel track trying to piece together any clues about one unidentified victim from the bus and hit the pay dirt. Slowly the pieces of the puzzle start falling into the place.
I just loved this book not only for the riveting plot but also for the way Sjowall and Wahloo have developed and narrated it. The story involves no heroics, no car chase, no gunfight, no sex and the investigation is something you can hardly call thrilling. It moves at a slow, rumbling pace except towards the end and yet the book managed to hold my complete attention from the start. This is the fourth book in the decalogue and if you are reading it chronologically then you already know something about the quirky detectives with all their little idiosyncrasies. The author duo has also made very good use of the cold, rainy atmosphere to convey the foul mood and irritation of the team. In fact you can find this trait of using the shifting seasons of Sweden throughout the series.
This book is now almost 50 years old but to me it will always stand the test of time. This is one of those seldom mysteries which I have reread and will definitely read again over time. Don’t give it a miss!!
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your time.
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