A friend recently asked me if I read anything that could be described as relaxing and fun. I nodded vigorously and mentioned a couple of names he had never heard of before, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. The title of their fourth book, The Laughing Policeman, also elicited no response but you can guarantee it would have done from anyone who had read this book.
The reason for the success of what could easily sound dull as a police procedural thriller is the pace and the plot. The pace moves up and down the gears and as a result has the ability to catch you when you are not expecting it with marginal characters making breakthroughs in the case and then what looks like a strong lead hitting a brick wall.
But it is the ability of the husband and wife team to deliver a plot with a cast of characters that are actually made out to be human beings rather than just physical representations of certain job types that is clever. 20 pages in and you are given a twist that jolts you out of autopilot and reminds you that this is going to be something different.
Other thrillers start with a dead body and then keep piling them up until the detective manages to crack the case. Here it is different. You get the crime, in this case eight shot dead in a bus, but then you get very little else until the killer is caught.
Because the killer goes back into the shadows the reader has no idea who they are and has to sit on the shoulder of detective Martin Beck and his team to try and watch how he or she is caught.
Things are never straightforward because this is real life. It is also a book prepared to make statements about the politics of the time with some anti-Vietnam war material in her. It pains a mixed picture of Sweden making it feel much more real than a picture postcard ever could.
But ultimately what makes this fun is the gripping nature of the plot and the perfect timing of the development of the story until it reaches its conclusion. I took this on holiday expecting to spend a few days on it and stayed up late until I had finished it in one sitting. The reason was simply that although I could put it down I simply did not want to.
If you get a chance to pick up one of the thrillers in the ten book series this one after the first Roseanna would b e my recommendation. Beck’s marriage has fallen slightly more apart compared to Roseanna but he is still the cold ridden snow hating detective who never knows when to switch off and the crimes he tries to solve are gripping thanks to the imagination of Maj and Per.