After reading Faceless Killers, I knew that I would want to read more from Mankell and follow Kurt Wallander through this crime series set in Sweden. Just as I’ve been doing with Kathy Reichs’ crime series, I read roughly one in the series each year. I’m reading them in the order in which they were written so that I keep the storyline about the detective in chronological order. Why do I love bumbling detectives that do stupid things and get themselves into trouble? Why do I love their personal stories and follow their loves and losses with such glee? It’s compulsive and addictive and enjoyable. It’s the humanity and the suspense and the comfort of settling into a page turner where we already know the characters and we are quite sure that everything will turn out ok in the end. A formula is not always a bad thing.
What I like about Mankell’s books is that with each instalment, he chooses an issue to deal with, usually socio-political. In ‘The Dogs of Riga’ he focuses on the Eastern Bloc countries and their difficult relationship with Russia. Of course this book was written in the early 90’s so it is rather outdated. But that lends it a bit of charm, like reading about the cold war. Even the fact that they receive information in the police station by telex is endearing, hearkening back to a simpler time before the internet machine took over. Also, the harsh, snowy, foggy, grey winter scenes in Sweden seem to create a gloomy landscape that somehow seems appropriate to the cold of murder and crime. I am not ashamed to admit that I like the way Mankell writes and I like the character of Kurt Wallander.
In ‘The Dogs of Riga’, a lifeboat washes up on a beach with two men in it, both dressed in expensive suits and both shot dead. Wallander travels to Riga, in Latvia, where he is plunged into an alien world of police surveillance and multiple lies and threats. He must fear for his life when he no longer knows who he can trust.
A friend of mine recently mentioned that she had lately become rather addicted to Henning Mankell books. Now that I have finished ‘Faceless Killers’, I can understand why, and I think I may fly through the series as well.
An elderly farmer and his wife are brutally murdered in their home. There is no clear motive and no leads in the tragedy, except for one word the woman utters just before her death. She says the word ‘foreign’.
Henning Mankell is a thoughtful and reflective author who writes what I would call intelligent literary crime fiction. The author also seamlessly incorporates social issues, in this case he has woven in the difficult question of how refugee immigrants are received and regarded in a country like Sweden. In other books, he deals with things like the collapse of the Soviet Union, teenage suicide, Internet crimes, and how citizens sometimes take justice into their own hands, instead of leaving it to the police and the justice system. Mankell understands cross-cultural issues. He has a home in Mozambique where he stays part of the time.
Kurt Wallander is a character who develops and changes which keep the series full of interest. Contrastingly, the character of his father is someone who never changes at all except that he is beginning to suffer from dementia. And Wallander’s daughter and ex-wife Mona figure into the stories as well. In fact, Wallander’s occasional issues with women are probably due to the fact that he is a compassionate soul, still dealing with the loss of his marriage and not ready to move on well until he has accepted this. Mankell says that he has always been the same age as his Wallander character, which has informed his writing. And he makes Wallander quite vulnerable and realistic. In the 4th novel he gets diabetes and has to deal with that as well, mostly because he neglects his own health while busy with investigations. That would never happen to James Bond!
One interesting tidbit I learned by listening to an interview with Mankell, is that he has placed a mistake in each one of his crime novels. Now there is an additional challenge for a detective novel fan!