Fiction – paperback; Orion; 224 pages; 2002. Translated from the Swedish by Alan Blair.
Described by many as a “classic of the police procedural”, The Laughing Policeman, by husband-and-wife Scandinavian team Maj Sjöwall and Peter Wahlöö, is a wonderfully realised piece of detective fiction.
While written in the late 1960s, the storyline is far from dated. It’s a well crafted and exquisitely plotted piece of fiction that had me hooked from the first page.
The setting is Stockholm, Sweden. It’s a cold, wet November evening and two policemen have just stumbled upon a double-decker bus that has driven off the road. On board are eight people, including an off-duty police officer, who have been gunned down by an unknown assailant. Who was the murderer and what was his motive? Why was the policeman onboard? And did he know the young nurse sitting next to him?
The crime — Sweden’s first ever mass murder — tests the resolve of all the detectives working on it, including Inspector Martin Beck whom appears in three other novels by Sjöwall and Wahlöö.
I initially found the writing in The Laughing Policeman a little disjointed — probably the fault of the translator and not the authors — but once I got used to the style I absolutely loved this book. The humour and the banter between the police working on the case really brought the story alive. And despite the grim subject matter, I found myself chuckling throughout because of the one-liners.
This is definitely a classic piece of crime fiction that holds up against the best of its genre today, and I would highly recommend it to anyone after a powerful and intelligent read.