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Cecilia Cervin’s speech to Maj Sjöwall

Maj Sjöwall!

When your and Per Wahlöö’s decalogue came out in a new edition last autumn, this aroused justified joy everywhere – except with ONE, I say ONE, critic. He reacted with unusual stupidity in a supposedly ideological fury with a complete lack of perspective.

I could use all the time granted by Lasse Diding to show how stupid he was. But it’s more fun to talk about how wise and good you two authors were and are in these books.

I seem to remember that at the time there was a lot of speculation about which of you had written what – in retrospect I don’t find that very interesting. As far as I understand, the books were created in an intensive collaboration between You and Per Wahlöö. Had he been able to be here today, the award would of course have gone to both of you together.

What is it like to read your books again after almost half a century? Well, at first you may feel something most similar to tenderness: so long ago, so much that has happened since then. Just a few examples:

No computers are available. Typewriters and pencils are handled more or less skilfully. DNA tests – no, but fingerprints, blood traces and footprints. Text messages and email – no, but a diligent use of telephone calls.

The money!

The scandal journalist, horribly overpaid, reaches the staggering income of 40,000 – a year!! The street character Röven has pockets full of small change, coins that no longer exists etc. etc.

Yes, of course a work gets dated by this kind of details. At the same time, it is precisely the kind of everyday realism that makes them epoch-making, that makes them the portal to an entire genre, the socially critical detective story or police novel. This is not bloodthirsty suspense for its own sake, instead The Story of a Crime is in all ten parts about a crime committed by a crumbling society. Characterized by greed and lust for power, this society has renounced all forms of solidarity and responsibility. It favours the exploitation of the poor and weak by the rich.

Unfortunately, this also applies to the police as an institution. Senior executives from the National Police Chief and down are mostly concerned about that wealthy people should not be bothered, accused or suspected but allowed to continue with their lucrative business, usury, fraud, illegal arms trade, etc.

Against this so-called management stands the police in the field:

The tired Martin Beck, in the later books a little less tired but all the more critical. As we know, he has had countless followers, most of them fairly clichéd. An exception is Kurt Wallander, who at least developed in parallel with Martin Beck.

The others in your police cavalcade are also no templates: Kollberg, Larsson, Rönn and the others who together and separately develop during the course of the plot. Even relatively unsympathetic side characters can speak for those who, in contrast to the senior managers, carry out the hard everyday work. It’s done in a way that seems to be inspired by Shylock’s monologue in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice:

Forty years in uniform in this town. How many times have I been vomited on? How many times have people spit at me and snivelled at me and called me a pig or a swine or a murderer? How many hung have I cut down? How many unpaid overtime hours have I put in? All my life I have worked my ass off to try to keep a little order, so that proper, decent people can live in peace.

– – –

It has always been said that we police officers must protect society, sometimes it has been against workers and sometimes against students, sometimes against Nazis and sometimes against communists. And now there is hardly anything left to protect anymore.

Åsa Torell, a police widow who herself becomes a capable police officer, occupies a special position. She is a good example of the pedagogy in your books. She is viewed through the eyes of her male colleagues and their view of women is characterized by that time. At first, they see her as an appealing sex object, but they learn. Later she becomes a talented and clear-minded person with her own feelings and strong empathy in their eyes too. Thus, she gets to contribute to their development and hopefully to the development of contemporary male readers.

The bizarre subsidiary characters fulfil their task of entertaining and amusing extraordinarily well – the well-formulated humorous elements of the story would be worth a chapter of their own – but mainly fulfil the task as an example of how odd people were already then marginalized and pushed out of the so-called Folkhemmet (the People’s Home).

From that group, the killers are recruited in your books. They are desperate people who, neglected or abused by society and authorities, ultimately administer their own justice when no way out is available to them. So does the man on the roof, who in powerless revenge shoots to death all the policemen he comes across, so Rebecka, who in your last book, murders the Prime Minister a decade before Palme was murdered.

The real criminals are the “victims”, the murdered, the exploiters, the profiteers: the man who creates his fortune through the arms trade to civil war and oppressive forces, but enjoys the respect of the rulers, the porn filmmaker who attracts young girls to indifferently let them go under and die et al.

Are your books still current? Yes, unfortunately. Of course, it would have been more fun if society had developed for the better and not for the worse, but your books are so much more needed. In the details of everyday life, in the portrayals of people, in the reflections from and around your characters, the reader perceives an almost prophetic clarity. The story of a Crime reported how bad it was in society then – and now we know how much worse it was about to be.

In addition to the police, healthcare and geriatric care were among the areas you criticized. As we all know, it has only gotten worse since the businesses were sold off and profit has become the guiding light for what was once society’s most central tasks – care, school, welfare. The next step will probably be to sell off the police as well.

The profiteers are still of the same calibre, or worse. Both Jan Myrdal and the both of you criticized Folkhemmet (the People’s Home). Now the People’s Home doesn’t even exist anymore, but the criticism is needed more than ever.

You started and set the standard for this socially critical genre. Others follow in your footsteps, with varying degrees of success. That is why I want to quote the very last word in the whole decalogue: “Marx!”

Instead of a traditional quadruple hurray, I now want to gather us to a quadruple Marx!

Marx! Marx! Marx! Marx!