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Martin Beck is a fictional Swedish police detective who is the main character in a series of ten novels by Sjöwall and Wahlöö, collectively titled The Story of a Crime. The stories are often seen largely from his perspective and are frequently referred to as the Martin Beck stories.
Throughout the novels, he goes from being an unhappily married man and father to two young teenagers, to a divorced man in an unmarried relationship. Beck is prone to colds and often is suffering from ailments and physical discomforts. Beck also gets several promotions, seemingly much to the chagrin of everyone involved, including himself.
In the novels he is a tall man who smokes. In The Abominable Man he is shot and severely wounded.
All ten novels have been adapted to film, although some appeared with different titles and four have been filmed outside Sweden. The first actor to play Martin Beck was Keve Hjelm in 1967. Carl-Gustaf Lindstedt portrayed Beck in 1976. In 1993 and 1994, Gösta Ekman played the character in six films. To the American audiences, the most notable actor to play Martin Beck is Walter Matthau from the 1973 film called The Laughing Policeman, though his character was called "Jake Martin." Martin Beck has also been played by Jan Decleir, Derek Jacobi and Romualds Ancāns. Two of the novels have been adapted for films twice, Roseanna and Murder at the Savoy. In the later films that is only based on the characters, Martin Beck is played by Peter Haber.
Season 1 was written by Rolf Börjlind and season 2–4 by Rolf Börjlind and Cilla Börjlind. They all starred Peter Haber as Martin Beck and Mikael Persbrandt as Gunvald Larsson. Some of them were released theatrically, but most went direct-to-video.
The BBC has adapted the series for radio and began broadcasting the adaptions in October 2012 under the umbrella title of The Martin Beck Killings. Beck is played by Steven Mackintosh and Kollberg by Neil Pearson. Other actors include Ralph Ineson as Larrson, Russell Boulter as Ronn, and Adrian Scarborough as Melander.
Sjöwall and Wahlöö's technique of mixing traditional crime fiction with a focus on the social issues in the Swedish welfare state received a great deal of attention. The concept has been updated in the 1990s with Henning Mankell's detective character Kurt Wallander and in the 2000s with Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy featuring Lisbeth Salander. The basic concept has, by extension, given rise to the entire Scandinavian noir scene.