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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Murder on the
Thirty-First Floor

Per Wahlöö

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To purchase Murder on the Thirty-First Floor

Title: Murder on the Thirty-First Floor
Author: Per Wahlöö
Genre: Novel
Written: 1964 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 215 pages
Original in: Sweden
Availability: Murder on the Thirty-First Floor - US
Murder on the Thirty-First Floor - UK
Murder on the Thirty-First Floor - Canada
Murder on the Thirty-First Floor - India
Meurtre au 31e étage - France
Mord im 31.Stock - Deutschland
Asesinato en la planta 31 - España
  • Swedish title: Mord på 31:a våningen
  • Translated by Sarah Death
  • Previously published as The Thirty-First Floor, in Joan Tate's translation (1967)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : stark, simple, quite effective

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 26/2/1967 Anthony Boucher

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The complete review's Review:

       Murder on the Thirty-First Floor is set in an unnamed country, in some vague future (fifty years ago ...) -- but clearly imagines a Sweden that's taken a wrong turn. Ahead of the curve in the early 1960s, Wahlöö suggests the possibility of the nation going off course:

For our part, we were still ahead in materialist terms, so that should have been the moment for implementing others' best practice. But something entirely different happened. Things developed along a different course.
       A 'Society of Accord' suggests everyone is on the same page, but it's a dreary, grey existence:
The individual felt physically looked after but robbed of his spiritual autonomy; politics and society became diffuse and incomprehensible; everything was acceptable but nothing was interesting. The individual reacted with bewilderment and gradually growing indifference.
       A fundamental dissatisfaction is suggested by the rampant alcoholism still on display -- it's practically the only thing the police deal with -- as centralized control extends over near-everything: all the nation's snack bars and restaurants, for example, serve the same "three standard dishes of the day [...] devised in a special division of the Ministry for Public Health [...] prepared centrally by a large food industry syndicate" -- and those turn out not to be the world's most appetizing dishes.
       Murder on the Thirty-First Floor centers on Inspector Jensen -- on the job for twenty-five years and he's never failed to solve a case (though, again, crime doesn't seem to be a big problem in the new society -- it's all booze and suicide). The case he's assigned to, and for which he is given complete responsibility, begins with a warning note being found at the Skyscraper, the headquarters of the nation's largest (and more or less only) publishing house, publishers of all the newspapers and magazines in the land, where six thousand people work. The note says a bomb has been planted, and is set to go off at two in the afternoon. Jensen rushes over and eventually orders an inconveniencing evacuation of the building. Then he is given a week to figure out who was behind the threat.
       The powers that be are concerned about the case: in his twenty-five years of service Jensen had never spoken to the chief of police, and now he suddenly hears from him constantly. Jensen is given access to the Skyscraper and methodically works his way through the limited clues, all the while facing the countdown-clock, the one-week limit he was given to figure it all out.
       Single-minded and a stickler for both details and rules, Jensen doggedly investigates. He delegates some of the grunt-work, but basically he's doing this solo: it's all on his shoulders. Eventually he's served up someone willing to confess, but Jensen isn't fooled and continues digging.
       Key to it all, as the title already suggests, is the thirty-first floor -- of this thirty-floor building ..... At the time of the initial bomb-threat, when they finally do evacuate, they decide there's too little time to get those of the 'Special Department' out, too -- they're safer staying in place, is the argument. During the course of his investigation, Jensen never does quite figure out how to get to the thirty-first floor, but at the end he does learn what exactly goes on there -- at which point all the piece in this cleverly-devised crime-puzzle finally fall nicely into place.
       Murder on the Thirty-First Floor is a social-political critique wrapped up as dystopian crime novel, a warning of what Nordic society might come to. The vision is a dark one of a world in which their is no opposition or confrontation, especially of thought: monopoly -- of rule, of food-production, and, most significantly, of the media -- demand and ensure a uniformity of experience. The only escape is alcohol, or suicide.
       Wahlöö's cold, stark tone mirrors this dreary society, right down to descriptions such as, simply, of Inspector Jensen's "unlined and expressionless face". The story proceeds, like Jensen, methodically and unemotionally, but the ticking clock of the time-limit forces some suspense on it. Though grim, the story is paced fast enough that it doesn't bog down; it can feel a bit plodding -- but that's also Jensen's style.
       Ultimately, it all comes together -- nicely, darkly, and with a sense of inevitability -- making for a simple but quite successful novel. With its focus on the media-world -- albeit here just print -- it also feels entirely relevant even half a century later; one can only imagine what Wahlöö would have made of today's internet-world.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 April 2015

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Murder on the Thirty-First Floor: Reviews: Per Wahlöö: Books by Per Wahlöö under review: Books by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swedish author Per Wahlöö (1926-1975) is best known for the Martin Beck-series he co-authored with his wife, Maj Sjöwall.

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© 2015 the complete review

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