Review - The Laughing Policeman, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

Title: THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN - The Martin Beck Series
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Author: Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo
Edition released: April 2007
ISBN 978-0-00-724294-8
248 pages
Genre: Crime Fiction
Reviewed by: Karen Chisholm

Harper Perennial have recently started republishing the Martin Beck series by Sjowall and Wahloo - originally written between 1965 and 1975. (The full series as at this book, is outlined below.) These books are often included in lists of the great classics of crime fiction. They integrate a wide range of social and cultural issues alongside their crime fiction base, making some very pointed observations and statements about Swedish society at the time that they were written. Even allowing for the way that they mirror society, as seen through the author's joint eyes at that time, they also stand up incredibly well in current day terms - there is no sense that they have become dated or antiquated in any way and the message is as relevant and pointed today as it was when they were written.

THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN is the next book in the Harper series, originally from 1968. It opens with Stockholm police stretched to the limits by a series of protests against the war in Vietnam. On a rainy night, at the height of one of the major protests, off in the suburbs of Stockholm a double decker bus veers off the road, the driver and 8 of his passengers gunned down by an unknown killer. The murders seem to be totally motiveless, there doesn't seem to be any connection between any of the people on that bus. One of the passengers is one of Beck's own detectives, dead in his seat, with his service revolver in his hand and no apparent reason for being anywhere near that bus.

Again Sjowall and Wahloo weave an intricate investigation story deftly with a view of the surrounding circumstances of the time - the effect that the protests are having on police resourcing, the tension between Stockholm and more regional areas of Sweden, the tension between the investigating team members, social problems of workers coming to Sweden for a better life and finding a different story. Even Sweden's much commented on sexual freedom and liberation is considered, when the discovery of nude photographs of the dead man's girlfriend are found in his desk.

As expected in any book from this pair of writers, the investigation is deft and very human focused. The book incorporates a range of commentary on a wide range of issues, but there's nothing preachy or pushy - the tone is observational, the issues highlighted as part of the characters reactions and observations.

Each of the Harper Perennial titles incorporates an introduction written by a well known Crime writer of current times - THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN is introduced by Sean and Nicci French, who, highlight a number of the social commentary elements of the book. Whilst the entire introduction is very interesting, one of the most telling comments is right at the end:

"And speaking as another married couple who write thrillers, we don't know which of them wrote what, we can't see the joins, and we don't care".

The PS section in this book continues Richard Shepherd's analysis; briefly discusses the film adaptation of 1973 and continues the Q and A sessions with Maj Sjowall.

Full list of titles available from Harper Perennial so far:

The Man Who Went Up in Smoke
The Man on the Balcony
The Laughing Policeman
The Fire Engine that Disappeared (June 2007)
Murder at the Savoy (June 2007)

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