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 series. Edited 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