The Terrorists by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (Shane's book 12, 2009)

And so to the end. The tenth and final Martin Beck novel has the Swedish detective and his team trying to stop a team of highly-trained international terrorists who plan to assassinate a visiting American senator. It's a plot more suited to an action movie and sits oddly with the wry police procedural style of most of the series. The biggest weakness of the series has been a tendency towards Hollywood-style set pieces, notably in The Laughing Policeman and The Abominable Man. This is a more significant example than in previous books but it's still undercut by the authors' dry humour and by their belief that coincidence will find a way to ruin the most detailed plans.

[amtap book:isbn=0007243006]

Mostly it seems odd that Martin Beck, who is head of the National Murder Squad, would be put in charge of protecting a visiting politician. Is he the only capable policeman in Sweden? Well actually, as the authors have carefully demonstrated over previous books, he more or less is.

Alongside the terrorist threat there's the case of a pornographer beaten to death at his mistress's house and a woman arrested for attempted bank robbery. The woman lived as a virtual outcast within Swedish society and was naive enough to believe that the bank would give her money if she simply asked. Her character is used, in none-too-subtle fashion, to explore some of the iniquities of Swedish society. The whole thing is slightly unconvincing.

Despite working with a couple of implausible plots, Sjowall and Wahloo manage to make the book genuinely suspenseful. As the day of the politician's visit unfolds, it's hard to know whether all of Beck's team, even Beck himself, will survive.

A word on the translation, which I found disappointing. Joan Tate felt the need to translate the dialogue of Kvastmo, one of the policemen, into Cockney, presumably to convey his stupidity. That was jarring, not least because I don't remember any of the previous translators doing that. It's as if Kvastmo turned into Dick van Dyke between books.

It's worth mentioning that Joan Tate translated four of the books in the series and they were the ones I enjoyed the least. Indeed, the only other time I complained about a translation, while writing about The Man Who Went Up In Smoke, it was one of hers.

Overall, The Terrorists is a disappointing end to a strong series. It's not a bad book at all. In fact it's a decent thriller. But at it's best the Martin Beck series was more than that.