The Laughing Policeman (The Martin Beck series, Book 4)

Jonathan Franzen, Maj Sjöwall, and Per Wahlöö

Hugely acclaimed, the Martin Beck series were the original Scandinavian crime novels and have inspired the writings of Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbo.

Written in the 1960s, 10 books completed in 10 years, they are the work of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö – a husband and wife team from Sweden. They follow the fortunes of the detective Martin Beck, whose enigmatic, taciturn character has inspired countless other policemen in crime fiction; without his creation Ian Rankin’s John Rebus or Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander may never have been conceived. The novels can be read separately, but are best read in chronological order, so the reader can follow the characters’ development and get drawn into the series as a whole.

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.

Reviews of The Laughing Policeman (The Martin Beck series, Book 4)

    • ‘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
    • ‘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
    • ‘They changed the genre. Whoever is writing crime fiction after these novels is inspired by them in one way or another.’ Henning Mankell
    • ‘If you haven’t read Sjöwall/Wahlöö, start now.’ Sunday Telegraph
    • ‘Pick up one book…and you become unhinged. You want to block out a week of your life, lie to your boss, and stay in bed, gorging on one after another.’ Observer

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