The Laughing Policeman (novel)

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The Laughing Policeman
First English edition
Author Sjöwall and Wahlöö
Original title Den skrattande polisen
Country Sweden
Language Swedish
Series Martin Beck series
Publisher Norstedts Förlag (Swedish)
Pantheon Books (English)
Publication date
Published in English
Pages 240 pp
Preceded by The Man on the Balcony
Followed by The Fire Engine That Disappeared

The Laughing Policeman (1968), by Sjöwall and Wahlöö, is the fourth police detective novel, in the ten-part Martin Beck series. Originally published in Sweden in 1968 as Den skrattande polisen, it is the first novel in the series to criticize the shortcomings of the Swedish welfare state.[citation needed] 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) featuring Walter Matthau, is a loose adaptation of the novel.

Explanation of the title[edit]

The novel's title, The Laughing Policeman, derives from a 1922 song so titled. When Detective Beck receives the record as a Christmas gift from his daughter, Ingrid, he does not think it funny; his first laugh comes when the dead Det. Åke Stenström is vindicated.


The crime scene: a Leyland Atlantean bus.

A gunman shoots the passengers of a public transport bus with a sub-machine gun; he kills eight people (including Detective Åke Stenström), and wounds one. Detective Beck and his team suspect the mass-murder is to disguise the murder of Detective Stenström, who was spending his free time investigating the sixteen-year-old murder of a Portuguese prostitute. Before that we see the technicality of the story, where Beck tries and removes all the cover from the murder at the bus. In a painstaking investigation, it turns out that Strenström had been attempting to solve an old murder before the statute of limitations ran out and he actually was on the verge of solving this case. Because of Stenström's work; Martin Beck and his colleagues can not only solve this earlier murder, but the attack on the bus.

Character development[edit]

To solve the case, several outsiders are called: 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; is 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, and, after slowly recovering from the shock of her boyfriend's murder, admits to planning to join the police.

Film adaptation[edit]

The novel was adapted for film in 1973. Walter Matthau played the lead role, though his character was called "Jake Martin." The action was relocated to San Francisco, California, and many plot points were altered.

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