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Martin Beck

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Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö

Martin Beck Die Darsteller aus quotKommissar Beckquot Actors Martin o39malley and

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

Lois Roth (1), Joan Tate (2, 5, 6, 10), Alain Blair (3, 4), Thomas Teal (7, 9) and Paul Britten Austin (8).

Swedish, translated into English

Beck, The Man on the Roof, Beck – Levande begravd

Played by
Peter Haber, Gösta Ekman, Carl‑Gustaf Lindstedt

Gunvald Larsson, Lennart Kollberg, Kurt Wallander, Martin Beck's neighbour, Van Veeteren

Martin Beck is a fictional Swedish police detective who is the main character in a series of ten novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, collectively titled The Story of a Crime. The stories are frequently referred to as the Martin Beck stories. All of the novels have been adapted to films between 1967 and 1994, six of which featured Gösta Ekman as Martin Beck. Between 1997 and 2016 there have also been 34 films only based on the characters, with Peter Haber as Martin Beck.


Martin Beck Nordic Noir TV and Film from Scandinavia and beyond


Martin Beck Gunvald Larsson and Martin Beck Mikael Persbrandt Pinterest

Sjöwall and Wahlöö, during the 1960s and 1970s, conceived and wrote a series of ten novels (police procedurals) about the exploits of detectives from the special homicide commission of the Swedish national police in which the character of Martin Beck was the protagonist. Both authors also wrote novels separately. For the Martin Beck series, they plotted and researched each book together then wrote alternate chapters. The books cover ten years and are renowned for extensive character and setting development throughout the series. This is in part due to careful planning by Sjöwall and Wahlöö.

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  1. Roseanna (Roseanna, 1965)
  2. The Man Who Went Up in Smoke (Mannen som gick upp i rök, 1966)
  3. The Man on the Balcony (Mannen på balkongen, 1967)
  4. The Laughing Policeman (Den skrattande polisen, 1968) (Edgar Award, Best Novel, 1971)
  5. The Fire Engine That Disappeared (Brandbilen som försvann, 1969)
  6. Murder at the Savoy (Polis, polis, potatismos!, 1970)
  7. The Abominable Man (Den vedervärdige mannen från Säffle, 1971)
  8. The Locked Room (Det slutna rummet, 1972)
  9. Cop Killer (Polismördaren, 1974)
  10. The Terrorists (Terroristerna, 1975)

Primary characters

Martin Beck martin beck The Killing Times
Martin Beck
The protagonist of the series, throughout the novels, Martin Beck goes from being an unhappily married man and father of two young teenagers, to a divorced man in an happily unmarried relationship with Rhea Nielsen, a kind and emphatic landlady whom Beck meets while investigating the death of a man who was Nielsen's tenant. Beck is prone to colds and often suffers from ailments and physical discomforts. Beck also gets several promotions, from Detective to Inspector, and Chief of the National Murder Squad by the end of the series, seemingly much to the chagrin of everyone involved, including himself as he hates the vision of being confined to desk work, though in Cop Killer, he is thankfully spared a promotion to a Commissioner. In The Terrorists, he is however forced to become Chief of Operations in an important job protecting an American senator, meaning that he is for once, in theory, higher in position than his superior, Malm. He is allowed to assemble his perfect team, consisting of himself, Larsson, Rönn, Skacke and Melander. He does extremely well coordinating the desk work and keeping in communication (through allowing Melander to handle all telephone communications, and diverting all telephone calls, or even switching off the telephone altogether whenever he needs time to think), impressing the Commissioner. In The Abominable Man he is shot and severely wounded, and quits smoking after the incident as his favourite manufacturer discontinues his preferred type of cigarette.
Lennart Kollberg
Beck's most trusted colleague: a sarcastic glutton with a Socialist worldview; served as a paratrooper and now refuses to carry a gun—after having shot and killed a person while in the line of duty. He is newly married in the second book and fathers two children over the course of the series. In The Fire Engine That Disappeared, he refers to Gunvald Larsson as "the stupidest detective in the history of criminal investigation," and in The Abominable Man, Larsson informs him, "I've always thought you were a fucking idiot.", though they later end up, through working with each other on numerous investigations, understanding each other. He resigns from the force at the end of the penultimate book, Cop Killer, after realising he was ashamed of what the police force had become, but still has the last word in the final installment.
Gunvald Larsson
A former member of the merchant marine and the black sheep of a rich family; he has a liking for expensive clothes and pulp fiction including the work of Sax Rohmer. He is also one of very few people outside East Germany who owns and drives a sports car manufactured by Eisenacher Motorenwerk. He is somewhat lacking in interpersonal skills and is disliked by most of his colleagues. He and Kollberg share a mutual antipathy, but are capable of working together efficiently when the occasion demands it. However, despite the fact that he often treats Einar Rönn with the same boorishness and insensitive tactlessness that he does everybody else, Rönn is his only friend and the two are close, often spending time together outside of the job. His rich, cultured family that taught him how to behave correctly in all circumstances, something which the Commissioner notes that he tries to conceal. His upbringing has also meant that Larsson has a penchant for expensive clothes, not least tailored suits, which have a tendency to in various ways, get ruined during his investigations. He is tall and has china blue eyes, and is in extremely good shape, being noted as the best in the team at breaking down doors.
Einar Rönn
Larsson's friend from the rural north of Sweden; permanently red-nosed, incapable of writing a coherent report and totally unimaginative, but a hard-working and efficient policeman. He is very calm and peaceful, only losing his temper once (on Larsson's behalf) in all the books. By the end of the series, Beck notes that he had defied all expectations to become a valuable asset to the team, and someone who he could trust.
Benny Skacke
A young ambitious, overzealous and sometimes hapless detective. He is introduced in the fifth book as a new member of the homicide commission, but later transfers to Malmö for personal reasons. Skacke is still somewhat naïve, seeking to become police commissioner, but he is noted by Beck in the last book as having matured significantly.
Fredrik Melander
Noted for his flawless memory and for always being in the lavatory when anyone wants him. Melander is described as a first-class policeman in The Fire Engine That Disappeared, but also as very boring. Some of his other peculiar characteristics include his insistence on getting ten hours of sleep every night and his unreadable handwriting. He is also noted for having no temper and being immune to flattery. He later transfers to the Burglary and Theft division in an effort to avoid overtime. Therefore, he features only briefly in the later books in the series (except The Terrorists). In the Terrorists, his skill for being able to have a conversation with someone where despite a long conversation, nothing actually gets done, means that Beck puts him in charge of telephone communications.
Evald Hammar
Beck's boss until he retires in the end of The Fire Engine That Disappeared. He is mild-mannered, trusts his men's judgment and dislikes the political infighting which increasingly accompanies his job.
Stig Malm
Beck's boss from Murder at the Savoy onwards. A politician with little understanding of police work who is willing to do anything to get up the career ladder, for whom Beck eventually feels sorry by the end of the book; he is often ordered around by the Commissioner. He has an overly high opinion of himself, not hampered by his one case as Chief of Operations ending in disaster.

Other major characters

Kurt Kvant and Karl Kristiansson
Lazy and inept partner patrolmen from Skåne who have a tendency to get shouted at by Larsson, at one point trampling all over a crime scene (and randomly shooting a hole in the roof of the crime scene) causing an investigation to take months as no footprints or fingerprints could be taken. After Kvant is killed in The Abominable Man, Kristiansson has a new partner, Kenneth Kvastmo, who is equally inept but far more zealous.
Per Månsson
A leisurely but very competent Malmö detective who becomes involved in several of Beck's cases. He is particularly known for his searching skills.
Åke Stenström
A young detective noted for his shadowing skills, who is killed in The Laughing Policeman.
Åsa Torell
Widow of Åke Stenström who later decides to become a cop. She appears prominently in Murder at the Savoy and The Terrorists.

Minor recurring characters

An unimaginative and rigid detective in Malmö.
Inga Beck
Martin Beck's wife, whom he later divorces.
Ingrid Beck
Martin Beck's daughter, often described as mature and independent and has a good relationship with her father, often going out for dinner together. She urges Beck to leave Inga.
Rolf Beck
Martin Beck's lazy son, with whom he has a poor relationship. Beck finally admits to himself in a later book that he dislikes the boy.
Rune Ek
One of the detectives. The character is usually minor, but appears more prominently in The Laughing Policeman.
Elofsson and Borglund
Two partner patrolmen in Malmö. They appear in The Fire Engine that Disappeared and Cop Killer. In the later book, Borglund is killed.
Norman Hansson
A uniformed police sergeant in some of the books.
Oskar Hjelm
A highly skilled but vain and temperamental forensic scientist, who is highly susceptible to flattery, something utilised on a daily basis by Beck.
Gun Kollberg
Kollberg's young wife and mother of his two children.
Rhea Nielsen
Martin Beck's new girlfriend after he divorces his wife. She is an open socialist, and enjoys cooking. The series ends with Kollberg and his wife Gun, and Beck and Nielson having a happy New Years' party, in a perfect atmosphere with Nielsen's delicious cooking. She is a landlady, having inherited a block of apartments, which, unlike many other landlords, she takes good care of, building a community around her apartments, which are deliberately cheaper than average, and well refurbished. She meets Beck in The Locked Room, as the ex-landlady of the deceased man. She is intelligent and straight-talking and is a social worker.
Herrgott Nöjd (Herrgott Allwright in English translations)
A down-to-earth police from the rural district of Anderslöv, who gets on well with just about anybody. Appears in the books Cop Killer and The Terrorists.
Sten Robert "Bulldozer" Olsson
A very busy, energetic and enthusiastic public prosecutor in charge of investigating and prosecuting bank robbers; has a big part in The Locked Room. He is known for being so busy with often 10 cases at once that he never appeals a case after losing, which he rarely does.
A Stockholm detective with a minor role in some of the books. Little is known about him, but he is disliked by both Beck and Larsson. In The Terrorists he apparently is a spy for Bulldozer Olsson.
Richard Ullholm
A pedantic and nit-picking detective in some of the books, who is constantly making official complaints of his colleagues over usually minor details.
Bo Zachrisson
A very mediocre policeman, who bungles the initial investigation in The Locked Room and later lets the Prime Minister get assassinated in The Terrorists, after Eric Möller, the chief of Security Police, mistakes Larsson's "CS" (meaning Clod Squad) list of policemen who should not be used for any important duties, as the "Commando Section".

Films based on the novels

All ten novels have been adapted to film, although some have appeared with different titles and four have been filmed outside Sweden. The first actor to play Martin Beck was Keve Hjelm in 1967. Carl-Gustaf Lindstedt portrayed Beck in 1976. In 1993 and 1994, Gösta Ekman played the character in six films. To the American audiences, the most notable actor to play Martin Beck is Walter Matthau from the 1973 film called The Laughing Policeman, although his character was called "Jake Martin." Martin Beck has also been played by Jan Decleir, Derek Jacobi and Romualds Ancāns. Two of the novels have been adapted for films twice, Roseanna and Murder at the Savoy. In the later films which are only based on the characters, Martin Beck is played by Peter Haber.

Independent films

  • 1967 – Roseanna (Sw) (based on Roseanna, starring Keve Hjelm)
  • 1973 – The Laughing Policeman (US) (based on The Laughing Policeman, starring Walter Matthau, the setting is changed to San Francisco and the characters have different names)
  • 1976 – Mannen på taket ("The man on the roof") (Sw) (based on The Abominable Man, starring Carl-Gustaf Lindstedt)
  • 1979 – Nezakonchennyy uzhin ("The unfinished supper") (USSR) (based on Murder at the Savoy, starring Romualds Ancāns (lv)
  • 1980 – Der Mann, der sich in Luft auflöste (“The man who disappeared into thin air”) (Ger) (based on The Man Who Went Up in Smoke, starring Derek Jacobi)
  • 1993 – Beck – De gesloten kamer (“Beck- the closed room”) (Neth) (based on The Locked Room, starring Jan Decleir)
  • Films with Gösta Ekman

  • 1993 – Roseanna (based on Roseanna)
  • 1993 – Brandbilen som försvann (based on The Fire Engine That Disappeared)
  • 1993 – Polis polis potatismos! (based on Murder at the Savoy)
  • 1993 – Mannen på balkongen (based on The Man on the Balcony)
  • 1994 – Polismördaren (based on Cop Killer)
  • 1994 – Stockholm Marathon (loosely based on The Terrorists)
  • Films only based on the characters

    Season 1 was written by Rolf Börjlind and season 2–4 by Rolf Börjlind and Cilla Börjlind. They all starred Peter Haber as Martin Beck and Mikael Persbrandt as Gunvald Larsson (this series completely omitted the character of Kollberg). Some of them were released theatrically, but most went direct-to-video. The fifth and sixth seasons include eight films which all premiere on C More, four in 2015 and four in 2016. Persbrandt reported in 2015 that the last film of 2015 would be his final performance as Gunvald Larsson, but his character appeared in the first episode in series 6. The series was bought by the BBC in 2015, and shown in the UK with English subtitles from episode 26.

    Season 1

  • 1 – Beck (27 June 1997) (later called Beck – Lockpojken)
  • 2 – Beck – Mannen med ikonerna (17 December 1997)
  • 3 – Beck – Vita nätter (27 February 1998)
  • 4 – Beck – Öga för öga (27 March 1998, "Eye for an Eye")
  • 5 – Beck – Pensionat Pärlan (8 April 1998)
  • 6 – Beck – Monstret (20 May 1998)
  • 7 – Beck – The Money Man (3 June 1998)
  • 8 – Beck – Spår i mörker (31 October 1998)
  • Season 2

  • 9 – Beck – Hämndens pris (27 June 2001)
  • 10 – Beck – Mannen utan ansikte (7 November 2001)
  • 11 – Beck – Kartellen (12 December 2001)
  • 12 – Beck – Enslingen (16 January 2002)
  • 13 – Beck – Okänd avsändare (13 February 2002)
  • 14 – Beck – Annonsmannen (20 March 2002)
  • 15 – Beck – Pojken i glaskulan (10 April 2002)
  • 16 – Beck – Sista vittnet (4 January 2002)
  • Season 3

  • 17 – Beck – Skarpt läge (28 June 2006)
  • 18 – Beck – Flickan i jordkällaren (6 December 2006)
  • 19 – Beck – Gamen (17 January 2007)
  • 20 – Beck – Advokaten (21 February 2007)
  • 21 – Beck – Den japanska shungamålningen (5 June 2007, "The Japanese Painting")
  • 22 – Beck – Den svaga länken (23 March 2007, "The Weak Link")
  • 23 – Beck – Det tysta skriket (19 September 2007, "The Silent Scream")
  • 24 – Beck – I Guds namn (10 October 2007, "In the Name of God")
  • Season 4

  • 25 – Beck – I stormens öga (26 August 2009, "The Eye of the Storm")
  • 26 – Beck – Levande begravd (22 June 2010, "Buried Alive")
  • Season 5

  • 27 – Beck – Rum 302 (1 January 2015, "Room 302")
  • 28 – Beck – Familjen (10 January 2015, "The Family")
  • 29 – Beck – Invasionen (21 March 2015, "Invasion")
  • 30 – Beck – Sjukhusmorden (28 March 2015, "The Hospital Murders")
  • Season 6

  • 31 – Beck – Gunvald (1 January 2016, "Gunvald")
  • 32 – Beck – Steinar (6 February 2016, "Steinar")
  • 33 – Beck – Vid vägs ände (5 March 2016, "End of the Road")
  • 34 – Beck – Sista dagen (2 April 2016, "The Last Day")
  • Radio adaptations

    The BBC has adapted the series for radio and began broadcasting the adaptions in October 2012 under the umbrella title of The Martin Beck Killings. Beck is played by Steven Mackintosh and Kollberg by Neil Pearson. Other actors include Ralph Ineson as Larsson, Russell Boulter as Rönn, and Adrian Scarborough as Melander.

  • 1 – Roseanna (27 October 2012)
  • 2 – The Man who Went Up in Smoke (3 November 2012)
  • 3 – The Man on the Balcony (10 November 2012)
  • 4 – The Laughing Policeman (17 November 2012)
  • 5 – The Fire Engine That Disappeared (24 November 2012)
  • 6 – Murder at the Savoy (6 July 2013)
  • 7 – The Abominable Man (13 July 2013)
  • 8 – The Locked Room (20 July 2013)
  • 9 – Cop Killer (27 July 2013)
  • 10 – The Terrorists (3 August 2013)
  • Impact

    Sjöwall and Wahlöö's technique of mixing traditional crime fiction with a focus on the social issues in the Swedish welfare state received a great deal of attention. The concept has been updated in the 1990s with Henning Mankell's detective character Kurt Wallander and in the 2000s with Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy featuring Lisbeth Salander. The basic concept has, by extension, given rise to the entire Scandinavian noir scene. The Mystery Writers of America, in 1995, rated The Laughing Policeman as the 2nd best Police procedural, after Tony Hillerman's Dance Hall of the Dead.


    Martin Beck Wikipedia