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The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjöwall

The Laughing Policeman (1968)

by Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö

Other authors: Per Wahlöö

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Martin Beck (4)

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English (34)  Danish (2)  Spanish (2)  Dutch (2)  Italian (1)  Catalan (1)  German (1)  All languages (43)
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
The fourth entry into the Swedish police procedural series featuring Martin Beck sees nine people gunned down while riding a double-decker bus. Mass murder is not a common occurrence so this is treated as a high profile case but what makes it even more so to the investigative team is that one of the victims was one of their own homicide detectives. As there were no ongoing investigations for him to be working on, the reason he was on the bus in the first place is not readily apparent. Was he having an illicit affair with the nurse he was found next to? Or was there some ulterior motive for his presence? Martin Beck and his team set about trying to discover the killer’s identity and the motive behind such a vicious crime. Tracking their colleague’s last moments might just help them solve the case.

This is the first entry in the series where the socio-political elements that this series is famous for really come to the fore. It starts out with heavy-handed policing of an anti-Vietnam war demonstration where a letter and sodden placards are no match for tear gas bombs, pistols, truncheons and any other element of their arsenal that the police could use for crowd control. The investigation itself meanders to its conclusion through the slow process of eliminating all leads that provide nothing to further their ongoing attempts to solve the case. Jumping on anything that might present a new avenue of approach the team work diligently though not without the odd moment of fun in their interplay. This far in to the series the characters themselves are becoming more rounded and fleshed out and we get to learn more of what drives them and their strengths and weaknesses and I’m looking forward to seeing them develop further in future instalments. ( )
  AHS-Wolfy | Apr 5, 2016 |
This is Book 4 of the 10 mysteries featuring Martin Beck written by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo between 1965 and 1975. Set in Sweden and identifying the changes taking place in Swedish society ,they were the forerunners of police procedural novels and inspired a whole generation of writers.

A mass killing in Stockholm set in the late 60's including a policeman sets up the plot for a team of detectives to solve before the public gets very uneasy. Great story. Thanks to author and Early reviewers. ( )
  tbrennan1 | Feb 20, 2016 |
Lately I've been feeling pretty guilty about slacking off in my college literature courses, so I've been going through my bookshelf to find things I was supposed to read but never did. In a dusty corner, I found both The Laughing Policeman and Never Look Back, which I'll be reading for my 2015 challenge. I guess that I did read part of this book, because I found a bookmark about a quarter of the way in, but I remembered literally nothing of the plot when I restarted it a couple days ago.

The setting of The Laughing Policeman is 1960's Stockholm, and an unknown gunman has just rocked the country with its first mass murder. Nine citizens are dead, including an off-duty police officer, and not a shred of evidence was left at the crime scene. The media is in a frenzy, the general public is panicking, and the police are stumped. It's not long before the killer is dubbed a madman, but police superintendent Martin Beck doesn't believe that fits with the careful and precise nature of the crime.

When it comes to Swedish novels, this is neither the best nor the worst that I've read this year. In fact, The Laughing Policeman is in a different sort of category than most of the mysteries I've read this year. It's very psychological, taking place in a time before computers, electronic databases, cell phones, and really any kind of advanced technology. Beck and his fellow detectives rely almost solely on their intuition and brainpower to solve this puzzle.

While The Laughing Policeman is overall a fine story, I did take issue with a few things.

For one, there are way too many detectives. I couldn't keep them all straight! We have Beck, of course, who is easy enough to differentiate from the rest. But then we also have Larsson, Kollberg, and a whole host of others whose names I don't even remember. There are far too many suspects, as well. I think at one point the detectives narrow it down to something like nineteen? And, of course, we're given all their life stories, which seems excessive in a book this short.

I found the treatment of women a little problematic, especially given that this book was written by a husband and wife duo. I understand that it was written in the 1960's, so I can't expect modern attitudes, but I can't think of a single female character who was described in a positive light. Most of the wives constantly complain and nag their husbands. The unmarried women are overwhelmingly described as promiscuous. Even when the women are greatly aiding in the investigation, it seems that they're looked down upon by the men.

I actually had to look up whether Sweden had a prohibition or temperance movement in the late 1960's because I think every character who's meant to be a bad person is an excessive drinker. The only thing I found relates to alcohol rations, so I can't see where this attitude comes from. The detectives actually ask things like "Well, was he a drinker?" or reference that a character was a teetotaler and therefore obviously not involved in any criminal activity. I personally am not a big drinker, but this particular use of alcohol stood out to me as unusual and kind of offensive.

Finally, nothing happens in the first 150 pages. Keep in mind that this book is only 211 pages. The plot does start ramping up in the last quarter, and suddenly, in the last ten pages, the brilliant detectives have figured everything out. I'm tempted to say that the ending falls into the deus ex machina category, because after about 175 pages of flailing around and utterly failing at their jobs, the detectives get one tip that miraculously resolves everything.

Overall, The Laughing Policeman is an average kind of book for me. If you're into police procedurals and dark Swedish novels, or if you're looking to expand your reading horizons, definitely give this one a shot. For just a casual mystery reader, there are definitely better uses of your time.

[see more of my reviews at the bibliophagist] ( )
  Sara.Newhouse | Feb 11, 2016 |
Setting the tone for some of the later Martin Beck novels, the opening of this book sees the Swedish police force distracted from its normal tasks by the much more entertaining pastime of beating up peaceful anti-Vietnam demonstrators outside the US embassy. But then Beck and his team are called in to investigate Sweden's first mass shooting incident: nine people have been shot on a Stockholm bus, one of them a detective from Beck's own squad. The absence of the shooter seems to rule out an American-style episode of random killing, whilst political terrorism doesn't figure either as a serious possibility (probably the most obvious thing that dates the book!), so the police are faced with a painstaking investigation into all the passengers and why they were there. It's maybe a bit of a detective story cliché that the mystery turns out to revolve around an old, unsolved case, but it's a typical Sjöwall & Wahlöö touch that there's a clue to this back-story that the investigators have missed the first time around by sheer bad luck... ( )
  thorold | Oct 30, 2015 |
I'm very happy to get back to the Martin Beck series, even if I was a little weirded out by the cover of this book. I'm not sure I've ever read a book with a huge assault rifle on the cover. The cover stands in stark contrast to the source of the title, a 1920s novely record called The Adventures of the Laughing Policeman.

The Laughing Policeman is a compact story about a horrible crime rife with social commentary. The political commentary seems to grow as the series goes on. The crime at the center of the story is the mass shooting of 9 people on a double decker bus on a cold rainy night on the border of Stockholm and the suburb of Solna, the same night that most of the police force is at an anti-Vietnam protest. One of the murder victims was Stenström, a young member of Beck's squad, but no one knows what he was doing on the bus.

The Martin Beck books tend to be heavy on the procedural part of a police procedural: it's not just interrogations, but it's scientific tests and strategy sessions. Because the crime was so large and garnered so much media attention, there are lots of characters as Beck's squad receives reinforcements from all over Sweden.

It's a compact story, which is a great change of pace. It feels quite contemporary, which speaks to the couple's influence on current crime writing. But parts of the story definitely place it in the 1960's: Gunnarson's rants are pretty retrograde, on purpose; and there is a bit of victim-blaming that reminded me very much to the first book in the series, Roseanna. This is my favorite entry in the series so far.
  rkreish | Jul 24, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (80 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Maj Sjöwallprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wahlöö, Permain authorall editionsconfirmed
Wahlöö, Persecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Abella, ManuelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Arıt, AydınTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Berf, PaulTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Blair, AlanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Blair, AlanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Čemerinskogo, GennadijaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Deutsch, MichelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ding, ShijiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Font i Mateu, LaiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Franzen, JonathanIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Goos, MarluceTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hoff, TrulsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jalonen, KariTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jørgensen, Grete JuelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kosenko, NikolajaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Larsstuvold, RuneForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lexell, MartinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nielsen, BjarneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Olszańska, MariaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rowe, MaryTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schultz, EckehardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weiner, TomNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zatti, RenatoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Z̆ilina, MiloslavTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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On the evening of the thirteenth of November it was pouring in Stockholm.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679742239, Paperback)

In this classic police procedural, the ever-dyspeptic Martin Beck has nothing to be amused about, even though it's Christmastime. Åke Stenstrom, a young detective in Beck's squad, has just been killed in an unprecedented mass murder aboard a Stockholm city bus. Was he just in the wrong place at the wrong time, or did he push a murderer too far in his efforts to make a name for himself on the force? Realizing that Stenstrom's presence on the bus was no mere coincidence, his compatriots retrace his steps and chase years-old clues to a crime long thought unsolvable. Along with Roseanna, this is one of the best of Sjöwall and Wahlöö's ten Martin Beck mysteries.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:44 -0400)

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Superintendent Martin Beck seeks the murderer of nine passengers on a Stockholm bus, one of whom was his best detective.

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