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.