Reading Sidetracked by Henning Mankell, I found myself really wishing that Inspector Kurt Wallander would get some professional help. The man is so depressed that it makes me depressed just to read about him.
Not that he doesn't have plenty of reason to be depressed. His personal life is a mess. He's still grieving for and missing his friend and mentor who died years before. He feels inadequate in his work and there are other stresses in his job as his department faces a budget crunch and possible staff reductions. There is a woman in his life and he wants to marry her, but she is the widow of a Latvian policeman who was killed in the line of duty and she's not so sure she wants to commit to a life with a Swedish policeman. (I can't say that I blame her.) His father has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and he seems to be deteriorating rapidly. The one bright spot in his life is his daughter with whom he finally seems able to build a positive relationship.
Wallander's depression is made worse by the images he has to deal with in his work. For example, at the beginning of this book, he is called out to a farm where a young girl is hanging about for no apparent reason in a rape field. As he moves in and tries to talk to her, the young girl seems to panic and brings out a petrol can, dousing herself in fuel and then striking a match. Before Wallander's horrified eyes, the girl burns to death in the grain field.
And then, of course, there are the serial murders.
Someone is killing men, some of them very powerful men, by various horrific means. Not only is the killer taking their lives, he (she?) is also taking their scalps. Are these simply random killings or is there an unknown link between the victims? Wallander, who is a very instinctual detective, instinctively intuits that there is a connection, but what is it? It certainly is not obvious. And what possible motive could the killer have for scalping the victims?
The Ystad murder squad is on the case, led by Wallander, and, painstakingly, they work through the few clues they have, hoping for a break. When the break comes, Wallander, naturally, berates himself because he did not see the solution sooner.
The Wallander series is mesmerizing in an odd way, a bit like a train wreck. The reader can't turn away, even if she would wish to. Henning Mankell spins a good yarn and he's cornered the market for tales of dour, sad-sack Swedish policemen.