Monday, July 8, 2013

Firewall by Henning Mankell: A review

The dour Swedish detective, Kurt Wallander, is now 50 years old. He has been diagnosed with diabetes, and he is making an effort to live a healthier life. He has taken up walking. He tries to eat and drink more sensibly. The result has been that he has lost some weight and he actually does feel better, at least physically.

Emotionally, he's still a mess. His promising relationship with the Latvian policeman's widow, Baiba, has ended. He doesn't have a woman in his life. He's lonely and he has a tendency to become obsessed with every new woman he meets. His daughter suggests that he sign up with a dating service, but he is resistant to that idea. 

At work, Wallander is frustrated. He feels unappreciated. His superior does not seem to trust him. He would like to quit, but his options are limited and he's looking at perhaps ten more years as a police detective whose career is going nowhere. He's a policeman whom technology is leaving behind. He doesn't understand computers. How can he function effectively in the technology age?

So, in short, Wallander is still the morose old bugger we've come to know and love, frequently out of his depth, always short on energy, and now facing one of the most complicated cases he's ever had. 

It begins innocently enough with a supposed death from natural causes. A man on his evening walk stops to use an ATM. He takes his receipt, turns to walk away, and falls down dead. At first, it is thought to be a heart attack, but his physician and others who know him insist that he was very healthy and had no heart problems.

Then his body disappears from the morgue and, in its place, a piece of equipment from a power substation is found. 

The dead man was a consultant on computer systems and technology. The investigation reveals an office where he has a mysterious computer. Mysterious in the sense that it seems to be totally locked behind a firewall that cannot be broken by Wallander's most tech-savvy team member. 

Meanwhile, in a seemingly unrelated incident, a taxi driver is brutally murdered by two teenage girls who, when arrested, immediately admit their culpability but demonstrate a complete lack of remorse for their actions. While in police custody, one of the girls unaccountably escapes and disappears without a trace. 

Next in the sequence of events, an electrical blackout covers half the country. When an engineer arrives at the malfunctioning power station, he makes a grisly discovery.

Then, a young man who was a supposed boyfriend of the girl who escaped flees the country, only to be found dead later in the engine room of a ferry. 

Kurt Wallander is an instinctual detective and he is certain that all of these incidents, involving four unexplained deaths, must somehow be linked. He is hampered in his investigation by the discovery of betrayals in his own team and by his own tendency to lose control of his temper at inopportune moments. Lonely and frustrated, Wallander seems to have lost confidence in himself and in his ability to do the job. Nothing seems to connect. This starts to look like the case where the famous detective will finally be stymied.

Henning Mankell has done such of good job of drawing the image for his readers of his detective's personality in the previous seven entries in this series that we now meet Wallander as an old friend. We know his weaknesses and his strengths. We may get impatient with his self-pity at times, but now at least he, too, seems to realize that it is self-pity and, in his own way, he struggles against it. In other words, Mankell has drawn a very human character, one with plenty of flaws, and that is something with which most of us can identify.

I like Kurt Wallander and I hope at some point in the future he will find happiness and contentment. But not too soon. Maybe not for another ten years. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for adding this to the library Dorothy. cheers

    ReplyDelete