Book: The Laughing Policeman - Livre d'Or








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Book: The Laughing Policeman
Tuesday, 31 October 2006 at 11:10 am
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Author: Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö

Details: (c) 1968 Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö; Translated 1970 Alan Blair; Pub Orion Crime Masterworks 2002; ISBN 0-75284-772-4

Verdict: The laughing policeman is an impressive detective story.

Reasons for reading it: lethargic_man recommended that I should read something written and set in Stockholm now that I live here.

How it came into my hands: lethargic_man lent it to me.

I really enjoyed The Laughing Policeman. The setup, where you have a whole police team working to solve a case rather than one detective-protagonist is very well handled, with some interesting characterization. And it's a snapshot of late 60s Swedish society as much as it's a detective story. I don't think the mystery is "solvable" on a puzzle level, but I don't usually read detective stories that way anyway. However, the way that all the different clues and deductions fit together to give a final conclusion definitely succeeded in being satisfying.

The crime itself involves an apparently random mass shooting of everybody on a bus, and one of the things it explores is who these victims are, what kind of cross-section of society you get on a bus like that. It reminds me of the July 2005 attacks in London, and the way that the newspapers were running stories about the different people whose lives were all cut off on that day. As such, it was very poignant without being sentimental. It is often a flaw in detective fiction that the narrative really doesn't care about the victims; they are the setup needed for the puzzle, or they are the source of sensationalism with the gory descriptions of how they died. In tLP, the deaths have an emotional impact.

Some of the political digs are a little bit annoying, and the careful descriptions of the layout of the Stockholm streets are over the top. tLP is definitely a book about Stockholm, which is cool, but I don't really need to read repeated descriptions of how the character walked down this street and turned into that street, looking over at such and such a landmark. The number 47 bus of the crime scene still exists, and it's a bus I quite often take because it runs close to the synagogue and some other places I regularly go to. On a similar note, I am not sure whether I should have waited to read this until I could read it in Swedish rather than in translation, but anyway, I was too lazy. (There is a plot point which turns on getting a garbled message and expecting it to be in Swedish when it fact it is in English, which doesn't come across very well in translation, but that's a very minor issue!)

Also, the action takes place at just this time of year, and coincidentally, today we had the first snow of the year in Stockholm, so the reality in front of me matches the book's descriptions very well. I hope I'll still be this enthusiastic about snow after months and months of it, but we'll see.


Whereaboooots: Stockholm, of course!
Moooood: contentcontent
Tuuuuune: Loreena McKennitt: All Souls Night [sic]
Discussion: 4 contributions | Contribute something
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cartesiandaemon: default
From:cartesiandaemon
Date:November 1st, 2006 11:42 am (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry
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you have a whole police team working to solve a case

I am reminded of Vorkosigan novels. OK, everything reminds me of the Vorkosigan novels. But the point is, often Miles was playing detective with considerable minions but it actually makes the whole detection much better: you know the main characters are going to be on top of the key thread, but instead of ignoring other avenues, he can delegate someone to check it didn't happen.
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pir_anha: default
From:pir_anha
Date:November 1st, 2006 08:33 pm (UTC)
10 hours after journal entry, 12:33 pm (pir_anha's time)

Re: Book: The Laughing Policeman

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oh, i used to love sjöwall & wahlöö, and was very sad when per died (much too damn young) and that ended the collaboration. i used to have all their books before i moved to north america. i really liked how the main characters kept developing throughout the books, and yes, the victims matter. later on, the criminals matter too.

the political aspects are maybe annoying now, but they were very interesting to me at the time -- hey, i was a socialist, what can i say. :) and they actually transformed the landscape of the swedish mystery if what i've read in local reviews is correct (i am not terribly widely read in swedish mysteries in specific). i also think the books succeed eminently as mysteries despite having been written in order to spread the political views of the authors -- agenda writing doesn't come much better than this.

hm. i wouldn't at all mind rereading them. i wonder whether my swedish is still good enough. probably not. :/

oh, and generally i like lots of description for a locale, the more so if i've been there. i'm reading an SF novel set in montréal right now and can visualize it much better because the writer gives information down to the busline that goes along sainte-catherine.
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From:curious_reader
Date:November 5th, 2006 04:30 pm (UTC)
4 days after journal entry
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I read children detective stories in German. It was also Swedish orginally. I guess German is still nearer to Swedish than English. I only had fun crash course years ago. We learnt a view words but grammar or anything that would have given me a real idea how much it is related to German. Anyway, in the stories I read there was always a group of children trying to solve a case. It was never such an awful tragedy as it was meant for children to read.
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lethargic_man: default
From:lethargic_man
Date:November 18th, 2006 06:09 pm (UTC)
17 days after journal entry, 06:09 pm (lethargic_man's time)
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The number 47 bus of the crime scene still exists, and it's a bus I quite often take because it runs close to the synagogue and some other places I regularly go to.

Having finally managed to find my map of Stockholm again, and skimmed over the book for the purpose of seeing where in it I now recognised, I was amused to learn I have also taken the number 47 bus—and also in the rain.
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