The Laughing Policeman

So how am I doing? Great! Ever since I started rereading The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. Here in the Happy Valley in July of 2019, it’s 80 degrees and sunny. In Stockholm, in November of 1967, the weather is ‘abominable’. Torrential, unremitting rain in the upper 30s Farenheit — the worst!

No, actually. It’s getting worse. December brings wind, sleet, and snow, all equally unremitting.

Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

Martin Beck, superintendent of the city’s homicide squad, suffers from indigestion and has virtually no appetite. I have the opposite problem, but what I am allowed to eat, I eat with gusto.

I’m old and single, which I don’t consider an ideal situation, but Martin Beck is in a loveless marriage and I am not, and that makes me feel a lot better. Being single, whatever its drawbacks, has it ALL OVER being in a loveless marriage.

He sleeps on the living room couch, by choice, and the only sunshine in his life, his daughter Ingrid, tells him, “I haven’t heard you laugh since last spring.”

Of course the real reason the Stockholm homicide squad is bummed out is that nine people have been machine-gunned on a bus, and one of them was their young colleague Ake Stenstrom, and some of them, especially Lennart Kollberg, had kind of picked on him to toughen him up and make him a better policeman.

So they’ve been looking at photographs of their friend, grossly mutilated by the machine gun, and a month has gone by and they’ve done nothing but follow up seemingly useless leads.

And Swedish society, in 1967, is falling apart. Police are beating protestors against the Vietnam War. OK there is a situation that has clearly gotten worse. Not only has America not learned the lessons of Vietnam, America has STARTED WARS in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is on the brink of war with Iran. Let’s call that one a draw — getting worse as usual.

I usually never read introductions, but this one, by Jonathan Franzen, really clarified for me why I so enjoyed the Martin Beck Mysteries by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo:

“We readers, not being Martin Beck, can laugh at how cruel the world is and with what cruel efficiency it visits pain on the detectives; we readers are having fun all along.”

But then these thousands of meaningless leads at last converge into a solution, and Martin Beck laughs at last.

Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo wrote ten police novels and they’re all great, and in the course of the series Martin Beck gets divorced and finds a hot girlfriend.