Monday, June 18, 2012

The Abominable Man by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö (Harper Perennial 1971)

Martin Beck stood on Regeringsgatan enjoying the chilly freshness of the early morning.

He wasn't armed, but in the inside right-hand pocket of his coat he was carrying a stencilled circular from National Police Headquarters. It was a copy of a recent sociological study, and he'd found it on his desk the day before. .

The police force took a very dim view of sociologists - particularly in recent years since they'd started focusing more and more on the activities and attitudes of policemen - and all their pronouncements were read with great suspicion by the men at the top. Perhaps the brass realized that in the long run it would prove untenable simply to insist that everyone involved in sociology was actually a communist or some other subversive.

Sociologists were capable of anything, as Superintendent Malm had recently pointed out in one of his many moments of indignation. Martin Beck, among others, was supposed to look on Malm as his superior.

Maybe Malm was right Sociologists got all kinds of ideas. For example, they came up with the fact that you no longer needed better than a D average to get into the PoliceAcademy, and that the average IQ of uniformed officers in Stockholm had dropped to 93.

'It's a lie!' Malm had shouted. 'And what's more it isn't true! And on top of that it isn't any lower than in New York!'

He'd just returned from a study tour in the States.

The report in Martin Beck's pocket revealed a number of interesting new facts. It proved that police work wasn't a bit more dangerous than any other profession. On the contrary, most other jobs involved much greater risks. Construction workers and lumberjacks lived considerably more hazardous lives, not to mention dockers or taxi drivers or housewives.

But hadn't it always been generally accepted that a policeman's lot was riskier and tougher and less well paid than any other? The answer was painfully simple. Yes, but only because no other professional group suffered from such role fixation or dramatized its daily life to the same degree as did the police.

It was all supported by figures. The number of injured policemen was negligible when compared with the number of people annually mistreated by the police. And so forth.

And it didn't apply only to Stockholm. In New York, for example, an average of seven policemen were killed every year, whereas taxi drivers perished at the rate of two a month, housewives one a week, and among the unemployed the rate was one a day.

To these odious sociologists nothing was sacred. There was a Swedish team that had even managed to torpedo the myth of the English bobby and reduce it to its proper proportions, namely, to the fact that the English police are not armed and therefore don't provoke violence to the same degree as certain others. Even in Denmark responsible authorities had managed to grasp this fact, and only in exceptional situations were policemen permitted to sign out weapons.

But such was riot the case in Stockholm.

Martin Beck had suddenly started thinking about this study as he stood looking at Nyman's body.

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