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While not my favorite, all 10 novels in the Sjowall/Wahloo Martin Beck detective series are part of the exceptional ground-breaking evolution of police procedural s. As the current popular authors who do the intros for the audio versions all note, these novels, including The Man on the Balcony grow with time and have influenced and delighted at least two new generations of readers and writers.
The Man on the Balcony may not stand on its own as an exciting or riveting novel, but in the context of the series it carries the main characters forward and supports a unique mood that is hard to characterize in a brief review. There is suspense, but it is muted by the irony, complex protagonist and crew of cronies and coworkers, subtle dialogue, descriptions of the pathetic state of affairs in the Swedish Police Force and society, struggles to find meaning, etc. All in all it is a work of art that may require some time for appreciation.
I can fully understand why another reviewer only gave it one star. It is not surprising, that from the middle of the series, a seemingly weak and anti-climatic ending could be disappointing; actually, it was just part of the beautiful ,sad, sympathetic, unfulfilled, cathartic ‘not with a bang, but a whimper’- like point. One can certainly see many influences, from the detective series side, if you liked the Ed McBain 87th precinct novels, you will probably love this.
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What made the experience of listening to The Man on the Balcony the most enjoyable?
Despite his poor work giving voice to the children in the piece, I can't help loving Tom Wiener's voice when he reads these books. There are narrators who simply become the voice of a series for those who hear them, and Wiener is that for the Martin Beck stories. I know he's not everyone's favourite, but there is something in the booze soaked, nicotine gravel of his tone that feels right to me.
What did you like best about this story?
Like is probably not the correct word, but what most interested me was the reflection upon attitudes in the 60s to the attitudes today. There are things that happen in the book, decisions that Beck and Kolberg make that -- in the context of a Western nation in the 60s -- completely make sense, but that today would send our young social justice warriors ascreaming. People did things differently back then. There were different priorities, even when it came to crime, and it is a good reminder of where we were and how far we've come.
Did the narration match the pace of the story?
Again, I don't think I can judge Wiener's narration fairly since I love it so, but if there is anything Wiener excels at, it is his pacing. He is easy to follow, keeps the story rolling, and has a perfect way with moving us through the plot.
Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
There was no extreme reaction from me, but more a slow nod of satisfaction.
Any additional comments?
This is a fascinating entry in the Martin Beck books, but if you've not read the first two before you find yourself here, stop! Stop and go back to Roseanna. Then you will be where you want to be, and when you reach here you will have a greater appreciation for the story.