The Laughing Policeman

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

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.

Reviews of The Laughing Policeman

  • ‘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

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