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CR3 #48: The Laughing Policeman by Per Wahloo

(Okay, let's get this out of the way right now: Per Wahloo is a funny name. I know I shouldn't laugh because it's Swedish and for all I know Wahloo is just as average in Sweden as Smith is here. But come ooooooon! Say it to yourself: Per Wahloo. Now out loud. And again. And again. See?)

I have only recently become aware that the Swedes are quite the mystery novelists. I bought Steig Larsson's Lisbeth Salander books, and enjoyed all three to varying degrees. After that, Amazon.com started getting very Scandinavian in its book recommendations. I tried to explain that just because I enjoyed one Swedish mystery did not mean that I wanted to explore any further. However, Amazon can be very stubborn when it so chooses. Unsurprisingly, so can I when I make my mind. No Swedish books, goddammit! My motherland (or like 1/8 of my motherland, anyway, being something of a mutt) has no literary pull on me!

Unfortunately, I had reached a point where I was at a loss for things to read. My obsession with disaster books has waned considerably, and my WWII fascination seems to be in hibernation at the moment. It's summer! My strongest instinct is to read mind-rotting junk, because THAT'S WHAT SUMMER IS FOR! I happened to wasting time on Facebook when I came across a "Book List Challenge" of "100 Best Mystery Novels of All Time." I do like mystery novels, and it turned out I'd never even heard of most that were listed. Clearly, something had to be done! Luckily, it also turned out that used mystery books are extremely cheap, so I ordered some. One was the previously reviewed Fer-de-Lance, and another was The Laughing Policeman.

The Laughing Policeman begins with a mass murder on a Stockholm bus. A mysterious suspect managed to gun down nine people--including a young police officer--in just a few minutes and escape without leaving a clue. The police are stymied--they aren't even sure who all the victims are, and have no idea what the motive could be. The whole force pulls together (including some out-of-town guests who are called in to assist) and combine intuitive thought processes with old fashioned police work to solve the crime and find out who murdered one of their own.

This is apparently one of a series of books featuring Detective Martin Beck. I guess this book falls somewhere in the middle of the series, but I didn't feel like I was terribly lost having not read any of the previous novels. I'm sure I'd appreciate the character development more if I'd had four or five books to watch it develop, but this can definitely be read on a stand-alone basis without any problem. The characters were mostly well-written, though some of their personal interactions were a little strange. Also, the only women in the books were either whores, victims, harpies, or sex objects (kind of weird since Wahloo apparently co-wrote this with his wife.) There were no strong female characters, but since it was written in the mid-seventies, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. The plot moved ahead reasonably quickly, and there were very few jumps in the logic of what was happening. My only problem was one that I often have with foreign literature--I had a bit of trouble keeping the names straight. I had the same issues with Larsson's books--here there were characters named Gunnar, Guntar, and Grunvald all running around detecting, and it took me a while to be able to recognize who was who. However, the characters' personalities soon became distinct and I had no more problems.

On the whole, I'd recommend this, and I plan to see if I can track down the other books in the series.

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