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The Laughing Policeman: A Martin Beck Police Mystery (4) (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard) Paperback – February 10, 2009

99 customer reviews
Book 4 of 10 in the Martin Beck Series

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Editorial Reviews Review

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“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

"A tantalizing, intricate tale."
The New York Times Book Review

“Sjöwall and Wahlöö write unsparingly and unswervingly. . . . Their plots are second to none.”
—Val McDermid

“Lively and stylistically taut. . . . Sjöwall and Wahlöö changed the genre.”
—Henning Mankell

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard; Edition Unstated edition (February 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307390500
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307390509
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #76,796 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

56 of 57 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 3, 1998
Format: Paperback
I read a LOT of mysteries, but I usually either donate them to the library book sale afterwards, or wait to take them out of the library in the first place. The Martin Beck series is one of the few that I've bought, kept for years, and reread numerous times. This novel is probably the best of the bunch: not only is it well plotted and suspenseful, but the characters are people you grow to care about, and their environment (Stockholm in the '60's) is vividly depicted. The authors' political agenda is clear, but they're not simplistic: the police bureaucrats may be idiots, but there are still competent, conscientious policemen with a sense of responsibility and the desire to see justice done; and the authors are no kinder to the misguided social reformers whose starry-eyed zeal led to the excesses of the welfare state. Setting the central events of the novel at Christmas is a nice ironic touch. I highly recommend the whole series, but especially this one. (The film made from the book is a bomb, however: transplanting the story to San Francisco works well at first, and Walter Matthau is convincing as Martin Beck -- but the screenwriters just strung together all the sensational scenes in the novel with no attention to the authors' careful plotting, and the result is a disaster. View it and weep.)
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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Lonya VINE VOICE on January 10, 2007
Format: Paperback
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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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Douglas S. Wood on November 20, 2006
Format: Paperback
The Laughing Policeman is the best known book of the multi-volume Martin Beck series by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. Despite the title there is little laughing in this grim and gloomy yet classic police procedural. The book is marked by the sparse dialogue and buttoned-down personalities of the Swedish characters. (The book was later made into a movie of the same name starring Walter Matthau and Bruce Dern, but set in San Francisco!)

The entire detective force of Sweden is assigned to solve the murder of 9 people on a Stockholm bus in 1968 (an anti-war - Vietnam that is - demonstration is the backdrop for the book's opening). One of the murdered is Ake Stenstrom, a Stockholm detective. His presence on the bus begins to unravel the mystery of this seemingly random and insane mass murder. Insane it may be, but never random.

Each detective obsessively follows their own path and the paths lead into Stockholm's underworld. Could an old unsolved murder somehow be related to this insane bloodshed many years later? Mass murder so un-Swedish after all - the police don't even have any psychological profiles they can use. Can the always miserable Beck or his top-notch partner Lennart Kollberg crack the case?

Highly recommended for fans of detective stories with an international bent.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Mike Tarasovic on April 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
While "The Laughing Policeman" ostensibly focuses on Sjowall and Wahloo's protagonist Martin Beck, the book truly gains its appeal not solely through the depiction of Beck, but rather through the colorful cast of all the policemen involved in this mystery of a busload of citizens and one policeman murdered, seemingly without motive. Sjowall and Wahloo are not only skilled at character development, however. The pleasure I got from meeting and getting to know each of their idiosyncratic policemen was only surpassed by seeing each of their methods and discoveries coming together to finally solve the case (whose solution, itself, brilliantly comes through the examination of a policeman's character). Every time the narrative found a new policeman to follow, I found myself wishing that this one had been the protagonist. And while I occasionally found myself confused by the names of the characters and places of the story (I admit to being a novice regarding Sweden and Swedish), I found Wahloo/Sjowall's depiction of 1968 Stockholm as a dark, dreary city full of criminal elements and lacking any innocents on a par with the literary Londons, New Yorks, and Los Angeleses of the world. Despite being more of a police procedural, concerned with the details of the case, rather than a Sherlock Holmes-style case with an explosive surprise ending, "The Laughing Policeman" kept me interested both in its characters and its story up until the last page. I'd recommend it to anyone as a good read, and especially to fans of the police procedural.
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