Late 1960s Stockholm. On a cold winter night as a bus nears the end of its route a gunman opens fire killing the eight passengers and the bus driver. Amongst those killed is Åke Stenstrom, a young detective in Martin Beck’s team. Beck is assigned the high profile case and immediately comes under pressure from politicians and the media for a quick solution. However, clues are thin on the ground. Working on the assumption that Stenstrom’s presence on the bus is not a coincidence, Beck and his team chase down all leads, however tenuous they might seem seeking the vital breakthrough that will reveal the killer’s identity. But to solve one mystery they discover they must solve another.
The Laughing Policeman is the fourth book in the much praised Martin Beck series. In my opinion it’s a masterclass in how to write a realist police procedural novel that does not rely on coincidence or plot devices to move the story along, nor does it concentrate on a non-conformist, lone cop (plus sidekick) who singlehandedly solves the case whilst coping with all kinds of personal issues. Instead, the case is solved through patient, diligent investigative work by a team of cops, involving a lot of footwork, collaboration, probing, leaning on informers, petty criminals and suspects, and wandering down blind alleys. It doesn’t get any racier with respect to the cops’ home lives, which are relatively humdrum and mundane. Yet despite this everyday realism the story is completely gripping as the dyspeptic Beck and his team inch towards solving the death of their colleague and eight other passengers shot late at night on a Stockholm bus. In my view the best book in the series so far.