We seem to have been waiting a long time for the next Wallander novel, but it has finally arrived in English translation and I devoured it the moment it arrived. It is also a book to be savoured, as it is the final Wallander book – there will not be any more.
For a long time Henning Mankell resisted writing more Wallander novels, saying that he was too distraught following the suicide of Johanna Sallstrom, the young actress who played the role of Linda Wallanader, Kurt Wallander’s daughter, in the Swedish television adaptations. Finally Mankell returned for one final Wallander novel to bring closure to one of the most remarkable series of detective novels in recent years.
The first Wallander novel was published in Sweden in 1991 and first appeared in English translation six years later. In The Troubled Man the usual Wallander themes are evident and the detective is his usual miserable, alcoholic, workaholic and socially dysfunctional self, struggling as much with his personal relationships as with the challenges of the current case. The story revolves around a retired naval officer and future father-in-law of Linda Wallander, who, seemingly preoccupied, disappears one day whilst on a walk. The ensuing investigation inevitably reveals a more complex web of intrigue and scandal. Ostensibly, the missing officer is ‘the troubled man’ of the title, but it is equally clear that Wallander is also a troubled man and, given the background to the writing of the book, it could be said that Mankell himself is also the troubled man.
As with all the Wallander books, this is a fast-paced quick read. I don’t want to give anything away, but I found the ending particularly fitting and poignant. Whilst some may be disappointed by the anti-climatic finish to Wallander’s career, I found his destiny to be particularly appropriate for the melancholic sociophobe, drawn increasingly into himself, that he is. A brave way to end such a fabulous series of books. Now I shall have to start all over again at the beginning with Faceless Killers.
The Shadow Woman, published last year, is Ake Edwardson’s second novel in his series of novels featuring Chief Inspector Erik Winter and set in Gothenburg. However, if you are like me then you will have been reading them all in the wrong order, as the early novels have more recently been published by Penguin in the US, whereas the later novels (Sun and Shadow, Never End and Frozen Tracks) have all been available in the UK for a few years now. But reading the books out of order is an interesting exercise in itself, disrupting the authorial intention at least.
I thoroughly enjoyed the later three books, all of which have the relentless pace and energy of Jo Nesbo, but was slightly disappointed when I finally got hold of Death Angels, the first in the series. I found it somewhat underdeveloped in both plot and character and full of loose ends and unexplained connections. It felt very much like the novel of a writer who was just beginning to experiment with the genre. The Shadow Woman provides a good bridge between the early and the later novels. The central characters are more developed and three-dimensional here and the plot has a much greater complexity and it ultimately makes for a more satisfying read than Death Angels. Yet there are still a few leaps of narrative faith that are expected of the reader.
Winter is typical of the modern detective, especially the Scandanavian or North European detective, in that his professional and private lives stand in stark contrast to each other. As obsessive and successful as he is professionally, he is negligent and dysfunctional privately. Whilst Winter is not as hopeless as many fictional detectives in his private relationships (nor is his private world as bleak), the novel is punctured with the narrative of his inability to make a commitment to his long-suffering girlfriend, Angela, and remains distant from his parents and sister. Winter may be able to solve a crime and bring a perpetrator to justice through his dogged commitment to the policing process, but the failures of his private life are marked by an equal lack of commitment. Winter’s private world, like society itself, remains broken.
Mari Jungstedt, another crime novelist with a background as a journalist, is one of the more recent arrivals on the Scandanavian, and specifically Swedish, crime fiction scene. Her first novel, Unseen, was an assured debut and introduced us to Chief Inspector Anders Knutas. Unspoken (and you can no doubt see a theme emerging here in the titles) is the second novel of four that have been published in English in fairly rapid succession, and shows an increased confidence in the writing.
One one level it is a straightforward police procedural in which Knutas and his team investigate the murder of an alcoholic photographer and the disappearance of a fourteen-year old girl. What starts off as two separate cases inevitably become linked. Some of the description and characterisation is redolent of Mankell (although Knutas is a far more subtle and functioning character than Wallander), but it lacks Mankell’s rawness and owes more, I think, to Sjowall and Wahloo. Like Martin Beck, Knutas is only one of a number of individuals who solve the case – it is a novel about the team, rather than individual – of dogged police teamwork, rather than the maverick gumshoe.
I have only two minor criticisms. Firstly, as this is a UK publication of a Swedish novel, I found the consistent use of American English a slight irritant. And secondly, I felt that Jungstedt, having built the tension very nicely, rushes to finish the novel off rather too quickly. It felt like something of an abrupt ending and she could have let herself and the reader enjoy the closing pages a little more.
The next two novels in the series are sitting on my bookshelf, waiting to be read, and I am already looking forward to it.
I had put off reading this book for a while, purely on the basis of th large amount of hype that has surrounded it in the last twelve months in the UK. Last year it was one of the ‘must-reads’ of the summer. So I waited for this summer to read it.
The author, Stieg Larson, who died suddenly, shortly after completing the final book in his Millennium Trilogy, of which The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first, was a journalist and committed socialist. His politics is a key part of the context to the story. At one level the whole novel is a biting critique of wealth and privilege. But it is also a very complex and superb crime novel.
It first seems as if the novel will centre around the character of Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist working on a left-wing magazine which specialises in the exposing of corruprion in the corridors of power and high finance. However, the real hero of the book is Libeth Salander, a part-punk, part-avenging angel, a twenty-something with a troubled past that has left her emotionally illiterate (there is also a suggestion of autism or Asperger’s Syndrome) and unable to form meaningful relationships with other human beings, especially men. But she is superbly intelligent, fearless to the point of being foolhardy, and with a strong, if rather unconventional, sense of morality. She might not be the kind of person you would want to spend much time with in the real world, perhaps, but she is a brilliantly complex character (both invincible and vulnerable), with whom you definitely want to spend time between the pages of the novel. For once this is a novel that lives up to its hype – a suprbly plotted thriller with political bite.