Book Fifty-Eight: The Laughing Policeman

Another offering in the Story of a Crime series. I really like the idea of creating a series of detective novels which both stand alone and connect to each other, and I am starting to get attached to the characters in the books, which is obviously part of the goal of the series. I like that they are developing and changing as people, rather than remaining static, because my primary objection to many series of books like this is that the characters stay the same, never learning from their experiences or being subject to the drastic changes in character and philosophy which strike most of us.

As in the case with many  other books in the series, this book opens with a description of the crime scene, which I like. It’s interesting to look at the scene and the actors in it before the police do, to form one’s own observations about what is happening and then to see how the characters in the book interact with the scene as the story progresses. The authors are really good at creating little vignettes, too, giving you a taste of each actor in the story but not revealing too much.

This book takes a departure from others in the series, in that it involves the death of one of the policemen, so it becomes personal in addition to just frustrating and challenging. In this instance, the desire for a promotion leads a man to make some mistakes which turn out to be fatal, but the other characters don’t realize this until well into the book, as they struggle to explain why this character was in a place he really shouldn’t have been in.

As the story unfolds, the characters end up solving two cases, one involving a mass murder in a bus, and another murder which is 16 years old. Along the way, we meet an assortment of characters who are all slightly off, mentally, and even spend some time in an asylum.

When I ran into my father yesterday, the topic of the Story of a Crime series came up, because he noticed a stack of them on my library books table (I keep library books/books which are lent to me on a separate table so that they don’t get mixed up with my own, allowing me to keep track of them), and he mentioned that he had read them when they were first released in the States, as they attracted a great deal of attention over here; this book even won an Edgar Award in 1971. It’s interesting to think that he was reading these books over 30 years ago, in an America that was very different from this one.

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The Laughing Policeman, by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Translated from the Swedish by Alan Blair. Published 1970, 211 pages. Fiction.