It took its time to get here, but Sweden’s Beck – based on the celebrated, much-loved and pioneering crime novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö – was entertaining, solid procedural fare, even though some of the episodes were from the mid-1990s and felt considerably dated. But here he is again, with four new episodes culled from archives (this one, The Japanese Painting, is from 2007).
Feeling typically out of place on a team-building exercise in Stockholm, Beck (Peter Haber) welcomes the distraction when a German colleague, Hans Sperling (Dieter Pfaff) calls him into a murder case.
Sperling, who helped with the Girl in the Cellar case, is in Stockholm privately, bidding on erotic Japanese art, but his contact Maria Lisowska is found shot dead in her hotel room, her body strewn with roses in the style of a Chagall painting.
Sperling, somewhat implausibly, is allowed to help Beck investigate the possibility of a bidding ring operating at the auctions; was Forsgren, the buyer of the Japanese painting, involved, or was it a mysterious girl in the next hotel room?
Beck’s chippy colleague Larssen (Mikael Persbrandt), ever the more perceptive detective, is ready to accuse Sperling; but evidence leads to a frame-maker, Sun, and a dodgy art professor, Beverin, suggesting that there’s a massive forgery scheme going on.
Caught up with Sperling and his eccentric neighbour Grannan in a boozy evening, Beck isn’t performing at his best, and his boss questions his acceptance of Sperling’s help. But when Sun, who has in fact been forging Chagall prints using the original ‘stones’, turns up shot dead along with two colleagues, and arranged in the style of the Japanese print, the investigation seems stymied.
The episode descends into farce when Sperling consults an expert, Levendahl, as to who could arrange an international art fraud on this grand scale; Levendahl turns out to be a total nutcase, so devoted to art and eroticism that he is prepared to murder anyone who threatens to expose his art forgery scheme.
It’s an all-action finale as the imprisoned Larssen escapes (when will henchmen learn not to handcuff people to water-pipes?), and shoots Levendahl just as he’s about to dispose of Sperling.
Ultimately this rather daft episode sees Beck doing practically nothing, with all the real detective work down to Larssen. And though they have plenty of evidence to go on, the case would still never have been solved had Sperling not gone, by complete coincidence, to consult Levendahl.
The obese Sperling is surely such a perverse character that even the German police wouldn’t keep him on the force, and Levendahl is so overplayed that we expect to see him stroking a white cat, or like Hannibal Lecter, eating someone’s liver. Indeed the ‘biological tableaux’and dinner-table conversations on sex, death, food, wine and art between Levendahl and Sperling are like a miniature homage to the much missed Hannibal.
Ending up with a jolly singalong between Beck, Sperling and Grannan, The Japanese Painting is , like the fake Chagall prints, plausible at first sight, but on further examination turns out to be entirely unconvincing.
Five reasons why Beck is Sweden’s Morse, here
For all our news and reviews on Beck, go here