Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Laughing Policeman

After I'd enjoyed working my way through Magdalen Nabb's novels early in the year, I thought I'd do the same for Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. This Swedish husband and wife writing team wrote ten novels over ten years. THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN has probably been the most frequently reprinted of their ten novels and certainly it's one of the best.It won the Edgar in 1971, the only translated novel ever to do so. The first, ROSEANNA, published in 1968, is, I think, the weakest, but then they were only getting into their stride. Reading them back to back largely in the order they were written allowed me to appreciate the development of the characters far more than I had in the past. They are the precursors of Henning Mankell's Wallander novels as Mankell admits and they too feature a policeman who, when the novels begin, has a less than satisfactory private life. And like the Wallander novels, they were intended to highlight social problems, quite overtly in the case of Sjowall and Wahloo. Much as I have enjoyed Mankell, I don't think I'll want to reread his novels. I have reread THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN and another favourite, THE FIRE ENGINE THAT DISAPPEARED several times. THE TERRORISTS, published in 1976, is also very good. I love the Stockholm setting, the dour yet effective Martin Beck, his team of officers and the complex relationships between them, and the plots which are not only good, but plausible. The books are often funny, too, in a laconic way. Fourth Estate has recently reissued them with a quote from Michael Connolly on the cover: 'some of the most gripping crime fiction ever written.' I agree and I know I'll go back to them again and again.

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