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The Martin Beck series (4) - The Laughing Policeman [Paperback]

Maj Sjöwall , Per Wahlöö
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)

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Book Description

15 Jan 2007 The Martin Beck Series (Book 4)

The fantastic fourth classic instalment in the Martin Beck detective series from the 1960s – the novels that have inspired all crime fiction written ever since.

The Martin Beck series is widely recognised as the greatest masterpiece of crime fiction ever written. These are the original detective stories that pioneered the detective genre and inspired writers from Agatha Christie to Henning Mankell; Graham Greene to Jonathan Franzen. Translated into 35 languages, they have sold over 10 million copies around the world.

Written in the 1960s, they are the work of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo – a husband-and-wife team from Sweden. The ten novels follow the fortunes of the detective Martin Beck, whose enigmatic, taciturn character has inspired countless other policemen in crime fiction. The novels can be read separately, but do follow a chronological order, so the reader can become familiar with the characters and develop a loyalty to the series. Each book will have a new introduction in order to help bring these books to a new audience.

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.

Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (15 Jan 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007242948
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007242948
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 382,095 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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‘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

‘If you haven’t read Sjowall/Wahloo, start now.’ Sunday Telegraph

‘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

‘The decalogue about the Swedish Chief Inspector Martin Beck created by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo during the 1960s and 1970s are indeed classic police fiction. They changed the genre. Whoever is writing crime fiction after these novels is inspired by them in one way or another.’ Henning Mankell

About the Author

Per Wahlöö was born in Göteborg, as the son of Waldemar and Karin (Svensson) Wahlöö. After graduating from the University of Lund in 1946, he worked as a journalist, covering criminal and social issues for a number of newspapers and magazines. In the 1950s Wahlöö was engaged in radical political causes, activities that resulted in his deportation from Franco's Spain in 1957. After returning to Sweden, he wrote a number of television and radio plays, and was managing editor of several magazines, before becoming a full-time writer. Maj Sjowall is also a poet. She lives in Sweden.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Swedish police novel from the 1960s 27 Feb 2011
By Maxine Clarke VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Fourth in the acclaimed Martin Beck series, THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN is another example of the controlled brilliance of this superb set of novels. The book (first published in 1967) opens with a description of an anti-Vietnam war demonstration, in which the police casually brutalize a girl demonstrator on her thirteenth birthday. Police resources have almost entirely been deployed to quelling the protesters, allowing free rein to the real criminals. The authors do not need to provide further comment on the ludicrous situation in which young girls are arrested but a blind eye is turned to thieves, muggers and worse.
Police inspectors and series regulars Beck and Kollberg are unmoved by the hysteria over the demonstrations. Their years of experience have taught them how to avoid being drafted in to help, so instead of beating up hippies they are playing chess on a dark, rainy night while Kollberg is babysitting. Later that night, however, ten people on a bus are massacred by a gunman (or woman) in a seemingly motiveless crime. The first police on the scene are the lazy radio patrolmen Kristiansson and Kvent, whom we last met in THE MAN ON THE BALCONY when they inadvertently solved the case. On this occasion, they recognize one of the victims as a homicide-squad detective, and so inform Gunvald Larsson, who in turn contacts Beck, as well as trampling all over the scene and ruining much of the forensic evidence. After a brief period in which Beck worries that the victim might be his friend Kollberg, it turns out that the dead man is the ambitious young detective Ake Stenstrom.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On the buses 17 Feb 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Book #4, and the loveable pair of Swedish Marxists are on top form with this one; it's a real high point in the series. The procedural aspects are very much to the fore, the wonderful Gunvald Larrson character looks like he's here to stay, and there's a great comedic turn from the Keystone-like Kristiansson and Kvant. Oh, and Kollberg gets kinky. Read it!
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
By Leonard Fleisig TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
George Santayana

On a rainy Stockholm night a gunman opens fire on Stockholm bus, killing eight passengers and critically wounding a ninth. The crime scene is bloody and chaotic. Critical clues may have been destroyed when the first police officers arrive on the scene and trample through the bus. Police Superintendent Martin Beck is placed in charge of the investigation. There appear to be no clues and no apparent motive. His task is the monumental one of taking this chaotic scene and imposing enough order on it so that clues may be found, leads followed, and the criminal or criminals brought to justice. The physical and mental burdens of the job are compounded by emotional burdens once Beck discovers that one of the victims happens to be a detective who worked in Martin Beck's unit. That is the plot that unfolds in the opening pages of Per Wahloo and Maj Sowall's remarkably well-crafted "The Laughing Policeman".

The Laughing Policeman, published in Sweden in 1968 and in the U.S. in 1971 (winner of that year's Edgar Award for Best Novel), was the fourth in a series of ten Martin Beck mysteries written by the Swedish, husband and wife team of Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall. The plot and structure of the four Beck mysteries I've read to date do not deviate from the standard format found in any well-written police procedural. However, what sets the Beck mysteries apart is their location and character development. Naturally enough, each book is a small window into Swedish life and culture in the 1960s and 1970s when the books were written. Further, as the series develops the character of Beck and his colleagues evolve and the reader slowly obtains a real feel for Beck and his fellow police officers.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Readable Swedish Crime 31 Oct 2007
A very enjoyable read, written in 1968 by a husband and wife team, who together produced this atmospheric detective novel, set mostly in Stockholm

Not so much a `who done it' more a `how the police solved it'. That procedure involves a number of policemen trying to piece together snippets of information and picking away at small and large details until the killer is discovered.
Add in a few red herrings to keep the reader wondering and you have an engrossing tale.
The characters of the detectives and the witnesses they interviewed both major and minor, were well thought out and believable. After reading this feel I know what it was like to be living in Stockholm in the 60's. I `m sure I felt the chilly winter air while reading.
The translation for this edition was a little odd but this quirkiness, for me, added to the novel. A great read and I shall look out for others in the series.
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The story begins with the unexplained mass murder, apparently by machine gun, of eight people on one of Stockholm's double-decker buses. The dead include the bus driver, an off-duty policeman, a nurse, a foreman, an import-export businessman, a restaurant worker, a widow, and one body with no identification. A ninth victim, a 43-year old highway department worker, is unconscious with life-threatening wounds, but may regain consciousness. When the more experienced detectives arrive, the scene has already been disturbed, there is no clear motive for the killings, no witnesses, and no obvious clues. To add to the pathos, the lead detective Martin Beck knew the young policeman who was killed.

This police procedural traces the painstaking follow-through, organization, and detailed attention required to solve this mass murder. Along-the-way it provides cameos of married life and insights into Swedish society in the decade of the 1960s. The characters are part of a series of books by the authors, and for those who have read other titles in the series they may be old friends, although to new readers this cast may appear a bit large. The book's title has only a minimal connection to the mystery.

More than half the book is devoted to laying out the story and key characters, with the latter part devoted to the solution. As befits a police procedural, the solution is due more to steady investigation than to an "aha" moment. The story is well-written and interesting, I found myself reading at least two or three more chapters than planned at each sitting. However, due to the relatively large cast of characters and locations it takes a bit more concentration than the usual mystery.

This Swedish novel is quite reflective of its authors' time and location.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent read
Published 8 days ago by Ms. R. Dean
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Short & sweet.
Published 21 days ago by Orinoco
4.0 out of 5 stars Swedish crime
Read this in Swedish as well, as it's well done.
Published 1 month ago by D. J. Young
4.0 out of 5 stars Review. Laughing Policeman
Excellent stuff again from the Swedish duo. I've read 6 of series so far, and I enjoyed this one the most.
Published 1 month ago by keith wilson
5.0 out of 5 stars A good Martin Beck thriller
This is one of a series of thrillers by the Swedish writing duo of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö that feature the detective Martin Beck. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Brian R. Martin
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
excellent condition for such a cheap book
Published 2 months ago by Bibizena
5.0 out of 5 stars The one that got me hooked
Characters defined and personalities allotted. That wonderful feeling of wanting to follow their future lives/cases. Will make re-reading 1 to 3 much more enjoyable. Read more
Published 3 months ago by R N Turner
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant!
Excellently written, mastermind of a plot and totally gripping. So much if today's crime writing has this series to be thankful for. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Steveo Beeveo
5.0 out of 5 stars Laughing, stupid, dead and memorable policemen
This is the fourth in the series featuring the dyspeptic Martin Beck and his colleagues from the Stockholm police force. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Dr R
4.0 out of 5 stars SWwedish detective, enjoyable
Martin Beck hasn't suffered in translation, nor has he aged badly. Interesting to debate how much he was an influence on Michael Connelly, which is how I came here in the first... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Mike Mood
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