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The Laughing Policeman

The Laughing Policeman

Book rating: 04 Paperback

By (author) Maj Sjowall, By (author) Per Wahloo, Introduction by Sean French, Introduction by Nicci French

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  • Publisher: FOURTH ESTATE LTD
  • Format: Paperback | 288 pages
  • Dimensions: 128mm x 196mm x 22mm | 118g
  • Publication date: 1 September 2011
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 0007439148
  • ISBN 13: 9780007439140
  • Sales rank: 20,179

Product description

The fourth book in the classic Martin Beck detective series from the 1960s - the novels that shaped the future of Scandinavian crime writing. Hugely acclaimed, the Martin Beck series were the original Scandinavian crime novels and have inspired the writings of Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbo. Written in the 1960s, 10 books completed in 10 years, they are the work of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo - a husband and wife team from Sweden. They follow the fortunes of the detective Martin Beck, whose enigmatic, taciturn character has inspired countless other policemen in crime fiction; without his creation Ian Rankin's John Rebus or Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander may never have been conceived. The novels can be read separately, but are best read in chronological order, so the reader can follow the characters' development and get drawn into the series as a whole. On a cold and rainy Stockholm night, nine bus riders are gunned down by an unknown assassin. The press, anxious for an explanation for the seemingly random crime, quickly dubs him a madman. But Martin Beck of the Homicide Squad suspects otherwise: this apparently motiveless killer has managed to target one of Beck's best detectives - and he, surely, would not have been riding that lethal bus without a reason. With its wonderfully observed lawmen, its brilliantly rendered felons and their murky Stockholm underworld, and its deftly engineered plot, 'The Laughing Policeman' has long been recognised as a classic of the police procedural.

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Author information

Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, both left-wing journalists and politically radical, met in 1961 while working for magazines published by the same company. They married the next year and together created the Martin Beck crime series, famously writing alternate chapters at night after putting their children to bed. Wahloo died at the age of 49 just as their 10th book was going to press. Sjowall currently lives in Sweden and continues to work as a writer and translator. They won the esteemed Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Crime Fiction Book in 1971.

Customer reviews

By susana 08 Apr 2013 4

The laughing policeman is a really entertaining reading. Flawlessly written, in a steady and unrelenting pace, the novel tells the fictional story of the first mass murder ever committed in Stockholm. The investigation is led by detective Martin Beck and his friend and fellow-inspector Lennart Kolberg. I love the way these characters interact. They seem to have opposite but complementary personalities. While Kolberg enjoys eating (he actually gets grumpy when he misses his meals), has a healthy relationship with his wife Gun, and mercilessly scolds his work mates, Beck is a laconic character who can hardly swallow any food, has a dead marriage with Inga and seems completely indifferent to his co-workers. Despite their differences, these two work well together, and manage to solve what, at first, seems to be a random murder committed by a madman, which eventually turns out to be linked to an unresolved crime in the past. I like the fact that there is nothing extraordinary in their reasoning, what leads them to solve both crimes is a tedious work, where trying, failing and trying again is the basis which sustain their investigation: without mysterious witnesses or extraordinary clues, they work their way through the scarce data they have. Around these two characters work a small constellation of secondary characters, each with a perfectly defined character, from the very imposing Gunvald Larsson to Fredik Melander, the man with the extraordinary memory, and together with many others who help to create the complex and yet well-defined universe in this book.
Another thing I have enjoyed about this book is the sharp sense of humor and the subtle criticism of the society of the time. In this sense, the first chapter, with its ironic description of the demonstration against Vietnam War outside the American embassy is a masterpiece.
In short, although this has been my first with Sjowall and Wahloo characters, I am sure it won't be the last one. Martin Beck has managed to find a place in my bookcase.

Review quote

'I've read "The Laughing Policeman" six or eight times. Each time I reach the final twist on the final page, I shiver afresh.' Jonathan Franzen 'Tantalizing...the splendid story of an apparently motiveless crime.' New York Times Book Review 'An influential police procedural with a precision-engineered plot that can grip and shock a reader...the plotting, pacing and characterisation are all exquisite: and the halting translation and the dated, just plain weird sexual politics somehow seem only to make it more compelling.' Independent on Sunday 'For Beck, as with Maigret, each investigation is less a riddle to be answered than a human situation to be understood...it's all done with immense accomplishment. A welcome addition to the Martin Beck casebook.' Matthew Coady, Guardian 'They changed the genre. Whoever is writing crime fiction after these novels is inspired by them in one way or another.' Henning Mankell 'If you haven't read Sjowall/Wahloo, start now.' Sunday Telegraph 'Pick up one book...and you become unhinged. You want to block out a week of your life, lie to your boss, and stay in bed, gorging on one after another.' Observer