The Laughing Policeman (novel)

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The Laughing Policeman
First edition (Swedish)
AuthorMaj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö
Original titleDen skrattande polisen
SeriesMartin Beck series
PublisherNorstedts Förlag (Swedish)
Pantheon Books (English)
Publication date
Published in English
Preceded byThe Man on the Balcony 
Followed byThe Fire Engine That Disappeared 

The Laughing Policeman is a mystery novel by Swedish writers Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, originally published in Sweden in 1968 as Den skrattande polisen. It is the fourth of ten novels featuring Detective Martin Beck. In 1971, The Laughing Policeman earned a 'Best Novel' Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. The American police procedural film, The Laughing Policeman (1973), is a loose adaptation of the novel. It was translated into English in 1970.

Explanation of the title[edit]

The novel's title, The Laughing Policeman, derives from a 1922 British song of the same name. Detective Beck, ill for a long time and with a strained marriage, has not laughed in a long time. When Beck receives the record as a Christmas gift from his daughter, Ingrid, who has noticed her father's behaviour, he does not find it funny. He only laughs at the very end of the novel, after the vindication of murdered Detective, Åke Stenström.


The crime scene: a Leyland Atlantean bus.

A gunman shoots the passengers of a bus with a sub-machine gun, killing eight people, including Detective Åke Stenström, and wounding one. After a painstaking investigation, Detective Beck and his team come to suspect that the mass killing is designed to hide the true target, Stenström himself, who was spending his free time unofficially investigating the murder of a Portuguese prostitute sixteen years earlier in an attempt to solve the case and demonstrate his skills to his older police comrades. Beck must now complete Stenstrom's work by solving the earlier murder in order to identify Stenstrom's killer.

Character development[edit]

To solve the case, Beck calls on several outsiders: Detective Richard Ullholm, a reactionary who lodges formal complaints to the Parliamentary Ombudsman regarding his fellow officers as a hobby; Malmö Detective Per Månsson (introduced in a previous novel), the man who can find anything; and detective Ulf Nordin, the most tenacious investigator. Åsa Torrell, Stenström's girlfriend, plays a significant emotional part in the story. After recovering from the shock of her boyfriend's murder, she states her intention to join the police.

Film adaptation[edit]

The novel was adapted to film in 1973, with Walter Matthau in the lead role. His character was renamed "Jake Martin," the action was relocated to San Francisco, California, and much of the novel's plot was altered.

Comic book adaptation[edit]

In 2011 French comics artist Martin Viot adapted The Laughing Policeman into a comic book: Le Policier Qui Rit. [1]


Preceded by
The Man on the Balcony
"Martin Beck" timeline, part 4 of 10 Succeeded by
The Fire Engine That Disappeared