Thursday, 1 August 2013

the laughing policeman

On Sunday 30 June I finished The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, which I thought was very good - good enough, as mentioned earlier, to buy another four volumes at the British Library.

It was mentioned in the Bloomsbury 100 Crime Novels book, but I'd bought it before that, picked up in a charity shop. It was only mentioned in a 'more like this' list relating to one of the Kurt Wallander novels by Henning Mankell, Sidetracked, which did make the list. But I had read the first of those, The Faceless Killers, over Christmas, and didn't enjoy it at all. It was hardly about the crime, much more about the detective, who I found charmless and unattractive (and yet, as suspiciously and unconvincingly often in books written by men, manages inexplicably - not just unrealistically but even in terms of the book's writing - to be sufficiently attractive to a woman more beautiful and successful than he is that she has a relationship (in this case adulterous) with him). As a crime story it was unsatisfying, as a character study it was dull.

But The Laughing Policeman was crisp, clear, with a dry wit, all about the police investigation, the characters and relationships of the police team sufficiently drawn and gone into enough as appropriate. I'd recommend it to anyone; Faceless Killers to no one.

(Who can say to what extent any of these responses are attributable to good or bad translation? I can't; but I'm sure it might have come up before if it was due to bad work.)

But I would say, as so often when someone has written an introduction to a reprint, usually a more modern/famous writer to give credit and attract readers, which is understandable, don't read the introduction before you read the book, because it will give too much away. They should put them at the end, as afterwords, really. Happily, I read the intro at the end; I'd have been very annoyed if I'd read it before. (In fact, We Have Always Lived In The Castle was meant to have an afterword by some other author, but it wasn't there, I guess because it looked like an edition given away free with the Times.)

First line: On the evening of 13 November it was pouring in Stockholm.
Last line: Then he began to laugh.

The cover of my Harper Perennial 2007 edition (produced for The Book People) is from quite a different set of designs from the Fourth Estate 2011 set which I've also posted a couple of. White background, black illustration (though there is a photo copyright credit in the book), coloured lettering, matt cover. Quite austere, which reflects the procedural storytelling style somewhat. Cover naming of other recommending authors, and identifying the book as one of the Martin Beck series (which the type sizes suggests is more important to emphasise than the names of the authors). And with that intrusive PS extra material flag which disrupts the cover (extra material at the back is more common now, so they don't need to flag it up on the cover so much these days). I prefer these designs, though they weather less well.