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The Laughing Policeman: A Book Review

Updated on March 9, 2011

The Book

The Laughing Policeman, by Maj Sjowall and Per Whaloo is a book translated into English in 1970. The translation of the Black Lizard edition was good and easy to read in English. It won the Edgar award for best mystry novel in 1971.The mystery is the fourth of the Martin Beck series. While part of a series, it stands on its own. Nothing is missed by reading it first.

The story concerns the murder of nine people on a bus. Beck’s team is assigned the case, and soon finds that one of the victims is one of his men. The murders are considered a freak attack by a madman. There are few clues until the team starts to consider that there may have been a purpose for the crime.

While the series considers Inspector Martin Beck as the main character, Maj Sjowall and Per Whaloo write the mysteries as solved by a team. Many of the characters under Beck contribute ideas and information to the case. It follows them as they interview people and investigate clues while dealing with problems with their home life and family.

The story is engaging. The Laughing Policeman is well written, and in the introduction of the Black Lizard edition, Jonathan Franzen feels it is the best of the series. The characters and plot are believable, with several twists to keep the reader guessing. After reading this, it is easy to see why Sjowall and Whaloo are considered among the best mystery authors.

The Movie

The 1973 movie, The Laughing Policeman, starring Walter Matthau and Bruce Dern is set in San Francisco. The plot of the movie is fairly close to that of the book. The movie has a sub-plot not in the book. Walter Matthau is Jake Martin, the detective in charge of the case. He is good in the Martin Beck character, but the tone is different than the movie. The police organization is different in that the investigators work as a team. Matthau and Dern do most of the work. These differences aren’t major and the movie is entertaining, watchable and stands on its own.


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