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 of ten novels featuring Detective Martin Beck. 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), is a loose adaptation of the novel.

Explanation of the title[edit]

The novel's title, The Laughing Policeman, derives from a 1922 song of the same name. When Detective Beck receives the record as a Christmas gift from his daughter, Ingrid, he does not think it funny. He only laughs later, 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 before the statute of limitations ran out. 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.

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