Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Steel Spring

The Steel Spring
by Per Wahlöö

I picked up this book on the sale table at Book Culture. My knowledge of Scandinavian crime lit consists solely of (1) I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and (2) It's a big thing, apparently. Needless to say, I hadn't heard of Wahlöö (a double-umlaut author!), who may have invented the genre in concert with his collaboration on the Inspector Martin series, Maj Sjöwall. The Steel Spring is not part of that series; it's actually speculative fiction, set in the near future - at least from the perspective of 1960 - although it is a police procedural. The puzzle is much larger than one dead body, though.

The book handles the speculative element well, unlike many genre books written by authors outside of it. Another book I read recently also featured a dystopian future, one that in many ways was poorly thought out, and I got the sense that the author thought that didn't really matter, because the dystopia was all-too-obviously only a metaphor for today, so why bother? Wahlöö is also extrapolating from his time and political sentiments, but he made the effort to get the details right.

This book reminded me at times of Thomas Disch's 334 (which might just be the similar covers on the editions I own, and, geez, doesn't that make me sound like a ditz), as well as every mystery since that ever featured a hard-boiled police officer. Wahlöö uses a very interesting point of view: The book is in limited third. It's almost camera eye, as Inspector Jensen seems to have very little interiority, but strictly speaking it's not; details are revealed, such as the pain in his side before surgery or his thoughts about an ambulance crew, that put it into limited third. I had a sense that Jensen has ruthlessly suppressed his thoughts and opinions, not that we just can't see them.

I now wish I had picked up Wahlöö's "Murder on the Thirty-First Floor" while I was at the sale table; it is his other novel featuring Inspector Jensen. The Steel Spring is a fast read, but I suspect I'll spend some time picking apart some of the author's craft.