Monday, May 5, 2014

The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell: A review

The Troubled Man (Kurt Wallander, #10)The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It had been quite a while since I had checked in on Kurt Wallander, so the time seemed appropriate. I wondered if perhaps his creator, Henning Mankell, had allowed him to mellow out at all in the interim.

Early in the book, as the author was describing Wallander, I came across a sentence asserting that the Swedish policeman was, in fact, quite a cheerful person. I had to laugh out loud. If there is one adjective that could likely never be honestly applied to Kurt Wallander it is "cheerful."

As we meet Wallander in The Troubled Man, his life is in turmoil, as it almost always is, but there are new causes this time. He is turning sixty and staring mortality in the face. That frightens him. Plus, he is struggling with diabetes, having difficulty controlling his blood sugar. Most frighteningly of all, though, he is having memory lapses - memory blackouts, actually. He has instances of indeterminate length when he cannot remember what he is doing or why he is where he is.

During one of these blackouts, an incident occurs which results in his suspension from the police force for a period and is a foreshadowing of things to come. He goes out to eat one evening and leaves his service revolver in the restaurant when he goes home. The personnel there know him and they turn the gun in to the police station. An investigation ensues. Wallander cannot remember having the gun with him or leaving it in the restaurant.

While banished from his job, he attends the seventy-fifth birthday party of Hakan von Enke, who is the father of the man his daughter, Linda, lives with and has a daughter with. Soon after, von Enke, a retired high-ranking Swedish naval officer, vanishes during his daily walk. The disappearance is investigated by the Stockholm police, but because of Wallander's personal involvement with the family, he disregards normal procedure and conducts his own investigation.

Several weeks later, von Enke still has not been found and his wife, Louise, also disappears. There is no apparent motive for either disappearance and no clues to what has happened to them. The police are notably unsuccessful in resolving either case.    

Wallander comes to believe that there is some kind of Cold War connection to these disappearances, that the couple might have been involved in espionage. He struggles to make sense of it all as he also struggles with his health issues and those periods of blackout that are coming more frequently.

There are other subplots, besides Wallander's health, to contend with as well. The most important women in his life - his ex-wife Mona and the love of his life, the Latvian widow Baiba - make appearances and complicate matters. They don't really add anything to the overall plot, except perhaps to serve to emphasize (if any more emphasis was really needed) Wallander's ambivalence and the uncertainty of his personal life. He is haunted by a past of unresolved relationships.

Indeed, the only bright spot in his life is that new granddaughter. He wants to live up to the hope which she represents, but he is forever dragged down by his essential moroseness and pessimism.  

I, frankly, found this whole story a bit of a muddle. I couldn't really see the point of it, and, in the end, I sort of wished that I hadn't decided to check on Kurt Wallander again.


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