Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sidetracked by Henning Mankell: A review

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. 

6 comments:

  1. I am enthralled by Inspector Wallander and Henning Mankell's writing! He spins a good yarn and keeps you guessing!

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  2. Mankell is a really good writer, rich, and I am enjoying the Wallander series, and the translation, particularly of this book, seems to flow well in English. I'm looking forward to reading more. I just feel bad for poor Kurt because he often seems so sad.

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  3. I have read all the Wallanders, and several other Mankell novels. I like them, I think Mankell does a really good plot. His last novel of the series The Troubled Man has a very good plot, one of his best, but Wallander sort of gets in the way of it. There are some oddities about it too,for instance, Linda Wallander is 2mo pregnant at the beginning of the book-January-but the baby is crawling in July and is at least 3mo old. I also am troubled by the way Mankell slags off his main character at times, yet his other output doesn't warrant badmouthing the main source of his cash and fame. I just put it down to being Swedish, they have a sort of Hanrahan complex: things seem worse than they are.

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  4. That's a very interesting observation, Gardeners. As you can see, I'm not very far into the series yet, but you've certainly given me something to think about - and look out for - as I proceed.

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  5. Mankell is now my favourite writer. I miss Wallander so much. I'm sure I will read them all over again in a few years. I didn't notice the baby thing -but then, maybe I have forgotten already. I also feel sorry for Kurt (i have read them all now) but I don't feel like that when I am watching the Wallander (Krister Henriksson series) portrayed on tv.

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  6. PBS had a series here, originally on BBC, last year with Kenneth Branagh playing Wallander, Lori, and it was well-done, I thought. In fact, it was the impetus for me to start reading the series. I'm glad that I did and I do look forward to reading the remaining books.

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