To echo this week’s triumphant Booker speech by Hilary Mantel, you wait years for a Riverside blog on foreign crime fiction and then two turn up at once. But Radio 4’s scrutiny of European literary detectives in the weeks ahead cannot go unmentioned, and the station’s dramatisation of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo’s series featuring detective Martin Beck is likely to create huge demand for these exemplary crime novels set in Stockholm. Between 1965 and 1975, the husband and wife writing duo published 10 captivating police procedurals that also held up a mirror to Swedish society and clearly influenced fellow Swede Henning Mankell.
The accompanying 15-part series Foreign Bodies is a typically ambitious Radio 4 project. It might have the alarmingly portentous subtitle ‘A History Of Modern Europe Through Literary Detectives’ but we should be in safe hands with presenter Mark Lawson, who regularly recommends continental crime writers on Front Row. The series will show how crime fiction reflects society’s tensions across Europe by focusing on popular detectives (Mankell’s Kurt Wallander, Nesbo’s Harry Hole and Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano) and venerable literary creations such as Maigret and Poirot, as well as introducing genre-bending crime authors Friedrich Durrenmatt and Nicolas Freeling.
The Martin Beck series starts at 2.30pm on 27 October and Foreign Bodies begins on 22 October at 1.45pm (and available on iPlayer Radio).