Posted by: Corri van de Stege | May 6, 2010

3 x Henning Mankell

So far I have read Faceless Killers, Firewall and The Eye of the Leopard, which means I moved from one of the very first Wallander ‘resolves murders’ mysteries to one that is not obviously a detective story at all but veers towards being more of a psychological thriller set in Sweden and Africa. 

Faceless Killers is a good page turner: Wallander, recently divorced with a nineteen year old daughter who barely visits him and who tends to disappear as soon as she arrives, is a disillusioned man, who eats badly (he’s put on seven kilo’s since his divorce) and loves opera.  This is about the Swedish disconnect from reality:

‘Somewhere in the dark a vast meaninglessness was beckoning.  A sneering face that laughed scornfully at every attempt he made to manage his life’.

Two people are murdered, an old farmer and his wife, and before she dies, Maria whispers ‘foreign’ to Wallander’s colleague.  When Herdin, the brother of Maria comes to the police station to provide a statement ‘Wallander looked at the man sitting in front of him.  There was something hard and dogged about him.  Like a man who had been brought up eating gravel’.

I enjoyed the style, the sense of remoteness and the chase to find the murderer(s). 

Firewall continues in the same style, Wallander is tired of life, of himself, of the cold, of his inability to mend the relationship with his ex-wife, but nevertheless persistent and driven, and he is the curse of the criminal, as he refuses to budge.  Reading this, I realised that I had actually seen this as one of the Wallander  tv series, but it actually did not diminish the reading of the book.  I still enjoyed the day-to-day approach to everything, as if this is normal life, all these murders, people being tormented, disappearing.

Then, when you think about it, it cannot last of course: Ystad in Sweden is only such a small place, remote, with a small population: how many murders can be committed there?  According to a Fact File UK on Crime that came with the Guardian newspaper a couple of weeks back, there are only 12 murders a year committed in Sweden…  Wallander must have solved them all!

Also according to this Fact File, murder hotspots are predominantly countries with huge problems with drugs, poverty or war – countries with a history of violence, in other words.   Maybe that’s why Mankell decides to shift his attention to Africa  (although there are lots of ‘Wallander’ books in between that I have not read yet and am piling up from the Library).

The Eye of the Leopard is quite a different book from the previous two and if I expected to casually flick through some more Wallander resolutions I was wrong: this is a book that tackles the violence and despondency of an African country (Zambia) that is in the throws of shaking off colonialism and getting rid of whites and their imposed ‘order’.  Hans Olofson’s early life is in an isolated part of Sweden, with a father who cares for him but who is hardly able to keep his own life together as a disillusioned lumberjack (in his heart he is still the seaman)  and whose wife disappeared when Hans was only a baby.  Hans follows the dreams of a woman who plays an important part in his early life in Sweden, and who commits suicide.  Hers was the dream of visiting a missionary post in North Zambia.  He ends up staying there, in Africa, fighting the lost fight of making sense of his life within the perils of the hostility of the black population, on an egg farm.  He never intended to stay, but circumstances force him.  It is a sad story really, of a life that does not really go anywhere and that is constantly besieged by the force of circumstances, as if he could never win in the first place.

And then to think that I shall see the man in the flesh – yes, tickets for Hay on Wye have arrived, including those for a session where Mankell and Ahdaf Soueif tak to Jon Snow.  I am sooo chuffed.



  1. I have not read any of these books yet – but I have seen the television series (the English version) and also one or two of the Swedish productions. I really must get down to reading a book by Mankel soon. Thanks for an interesting review

  2. Tom – Mankell has a wider take on Swedish society and that’s why these books are interesting to read. The other aspect is the character development of Wallander and where he comes from.

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