Sunday, October 21, 2012

THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s The Laughing Policeman is a classic police procedural.

Someone guns down nine passengers on a Stockholm bus. It is a pre-Christmas winter night, November 13, 1967. The investigation extends through the Christmas season.

In the course of the book, Beck's daughter unwittingly underlines the irony of having such a horrible crime at Christmas. She gives Beck a humorous Christmas present, a recording called "The Laughing Policeman." 

The recording, supposedly sung by a policeman, has silly songs making fun of the police. The singer laughs uproariously between each verse. 

Meanwhile, the crime seems more and more impossible to solve. Whoever did the crime is faceless. There are few clues. Martin Beck and his team methodically go through what seem to be hundreds of fruitless steps to find the person.

One of those murdered is a policeman, a young colleague of Beck’s. If Beck’s team fails to solve the murder, this will be Stockholm’s first unsolved cop killing.  

I hardly have to tell you how the book goes from there. Most police procedural aficionados know the Beck stories. The ten Beck novels are among the very best.

I read the books when they first came out in English translation. At the time, I thought they ranked with Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels as the best police procedurals I had ever read. I still believe that.  

The Martin Beck books are readily available in paperback. I might reread them all.  


This book was translated from Swedish by Alan Blair.


Cathy said...

Thanks for reminding me that I have the first two books in this series sitting on my shelves. Read faster, Cathy, faster!

Joe Barone said...

When I die, I will still have 500 books on my TBR list!

pattinase (abbott) said...

I will have 5000. I love this book and every book they wrote. One of the best detectives ever.

Joe Barone said...

Patti, As you can tell, I agree.

Richard R. said...

I have yet to read one of these, but I must remedy that ASAP! Thanks for the reminder, Joe!

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Great choice - I love the Beck series and this is one of my favourites, along with THE ABOMINABLE MAN, which may be my favourite of all. I sometimes feel that the modern police procedural as we understand it today - eschewing melodrama, with a downcast hero, begins here. The comparison with McBain is so apposite of course as Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö were inspired to write their series after translating some of the books about the 87th Precinct.

Joe Barone said...

Richard, I recommend these books highly.

Sergio, I had forgotten about the McBain connection. Both series are at the top of my all-time reading list.