Sunday, 27 February 2011

Sunday Salon: The Laughing Policeman

The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo is the fourth book in the Martin Beck mystery series, and the first one I've read.  I read it because Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise wrote this review back in January on one of the books in the seriesEdited to add****I also read a review at An Adventure in Reading featuring the book The Man on the Balcony, #3 in the series, in January.  I realized I had  seen references to this series for years, and decided it was time to pay it a visit and try one.  I was thrilled that the one that is considered the classic of the series, The Laughing Policman, my library had a copy of.

I don't know how I've missed this series!  I really enjoyed The Laughing Policeman.  Written by husband and wife team of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, who wrote a total of 10 books in the series, this was Sweden's first police procedural series. The mystery is set in 1968.  The Laughing Policeman opens with the discovery of a crashed double-decker bus, which contains 9 people on board - 8 are dead, one is dying.  They are victim's of Sweden's first mass-killing. 

When they discover one of the victims is one of their own detectives, the case takes on a personal note for the investigating team of detectives.  The fascinating thing about this book is we get to see inside the criminal investigating team and how they organize themselves to investigate this seemingly clueless crime.  I enjoyed watching the thoughts as the case progresses, as they search for the clue that will lead them to the killer, who is still out there in the city, in Stockholm.  Who killed these 8 - and when the 9th victim dies, 9 victims?  Why? Why was Stenstrom, who wasn't known for riding the bus, on the bus in the first place?

The Laughing Policeman is the best kind of police procedural, where each piece of the puzzle is given to us, and we race with the police - well, plod slowly but surely, as the investigation takes well over a month before the break finally comes - to discover who, and why.  The ending is one of those bittersweet ones where everything is resolved, but with the sense of chances missed, that if only Stenstrom had done this thing instead of that, then he would still be alive. Even though we never meet him, we get to know him through the eyes of his long-time girlfriend and his colleagues.

Martin Beck is the main person we see the book unfold through.  He is quiet, with a stomach ailment that creeps through the book as the only sign, other than his sleeping on the sofa so as to not disturb his wife, of the toll his job is taking on him.  He likes his work, most of his colleagues, and his quiet determination is what guides the team, although the assignment of work is equally distributed by others in the team too.  It's more of a partnership in the squad, which is interesting given how modern police procedurals focus on hierarchy now.  I like both, it is refreshing to see the different personalities fit on this squad. 

Very, very good.  This is one of the best police procedurals I have read in a long time.  I enjoyed getting to know Martin and his squad, and am definitely going to seek out the other nine books in this series. Highly recommended.  5/5


raidergirl3 said...

I read The Man on the Balcony just recently too. Great series and I plan to read more. I see my library has recently got in the new releases.

It reminded me a lot of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct mysteries. Have you read those? The start in the 1960s and he must have written 30 of them. Really good police procedurals.

I read the latest Camilleri mystery, The Track of Sand, and Inspector Montalbano picked up a Martin Beck book to read. I love when that kind of overlap happens.

Gavin said...

This is a wonderful series! I discovered it several years ago, maybe in reference to northern European authors when Henning Mankell first became popular in the US. Mr G and I have managed to collect used copies of most of the Martin Beck books and I'd love to reread them.

Susan said...

raidergirl: you are the other one that I saw review a Beck mystery! I'll come find it and link to it. I knew I'd seen two different blogs, but just couldn't remember (I'm sorry!). I have some of Ed McBain's books that I've been meaning to read, so this year I plan to read at least one and compare. I have Camilleri too....I like it when the writers start referencing their genre too, that's fun!

Gavin: Lucky you! to have most of them already. I'm looking forward to getting them all and reading them. Do you want me to let you know when I find the next one in the series? whether first or whichever? - I haven't forgotten about Ian Rankin either, I'll email you when I'm ready - sometime in early March, I think.

Cath said...

I can honestly say I've not heard of this series at all. (Quite why I think I should have heard of everything I'm not sure...) I love crime series set overseas - I think it must be another form of amrchair travelling, in fact I'm sure of it. So I'll be adding these to the list. I've just started my first Tess Gerritson book, The Surgeon. There's an awful lot of blood. But it's very very readable. Which is good as I have to get it back to the library by Friday as someone else wants it. The cheek of it.

Kailana said...

Interesting sounding series.

Oh, guess what? I bought the first season of Fringe!

Susan said...

Cath: I have the same idea too, that I should have heard of every series, so I'm surprised when I find new ones that others have known about for a while - Vicki Delany's series is one of those! I think it is really lovely that we can pick up old books, and series, and make them 'new' again by reading. I think you'll like this series too - not graphic at all, certainly not like how you've made The Surgeon sound! lol I've heard good things about Tess too, so I am thinking if you really like her, I'll be adding another author to my growing list to try. I had to get The Laughing Policeman back too - it was due last week, so i was late returning it while I finished it. The cheek! is right! lol :-D

Kailana: hear the sound of cheering and clapping from here in Ottawa? That's me!! Yaaay! you have Fringe to watch now! Let me know how you like it, we can email about it if you like (depending how you like it).

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