RogerBW's Blog

Faceless Killers, Henning Mankell 19 December 2019

1991 police procedural mystery; first of Mankell's novels of Inspector Kurt Wallander of the Ystad police. Two elderly people living in a remote farmhouse are tortured to death; nothing's obviously missing, but someone fed the horse before they left. And a couple of clues point at foreigners in Sweden… (Translated by Steven T. Murray; original title Mördare utan ansikte.)

Well, they say that one's detective hero should have quirks and fallibilities to make him more human than the "thinking machine" of much early mystery fiction, and Wallander's not short of them. He likes listening to opera, especially Callas; he eats too much junk food and drinks too much whiskey; his wife left him three months ago; some years ago his daughter attempted suicide out of the blue and he doesn't know where she is now; his ageing father is increasingly unable to look after himself. Also he sees all women as either lust-objects or caretakers, but I'm not sure that that's intended as a quirk as much as simply Mankell's vision of the way the world works; certainly there's nobody here expressing a contrary view.

It's a long and often dreary investigation, mostly plodding police work as the detectives bash their heads against a lack of evidence. As rumours get out about the foreigners, there's violence against refugee camps including a murder and consequent investigation which takes up much of the central section of the book; this culminates in a car chase which feels at times as though it was inserted to spice things up a bit, since it's really not Mankell's natural voice.

This is probably more true to complex police work in the real world than most police procedural stories: after the initial flurry of activity leads to nothing, it's half a year later when a new lead comes to light, and there's a lot of coincidence involved in exploiting it. And plenty of questions are never answered.

I found that the setting didn't really come to life for me. There's frequent mention of the cold wind and the temperature in general, but it's never a factor in the plot. I've driven several times through Skåne and stayed in Malmö and Lund, and the prevailing impression I get is of endless stretches of flat farmland with minimal relief, much like driving through the Dakotas; but there's none of that sense of emptiness and openness here. Any rural area with medium-sized towns and some open country in it could have served as well.

It's all right, if not outstanding. I found Wallander a bit too self-sabotaging and unconscious of his own flaws for my taste, but I'm likely to read another of these.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog. ["As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases."]

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action advent of code aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio audio tech aviation base commerce battletech beer boardgaming book of the week bookmonth chain of command children chris chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup covid-19 crime cthulhu eternal cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi economics en garde espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 essen 2018 essen 2019 essen 2022 essen 2023 existential risk falklands war fandom fanfic fantasy feminism film firefly first world war flash point flight simulation food garmin drive gazebo genesys geocaching geodata gin gkp gurps gurps 101 gus harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo 2019 hugo 2020 hugo 2022 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life javascript julian simpson julie enfield kickstarter kotlin learn to play leaving earth linux liquor lovecraftiana lua mecha men with beards mpd museum music mystery naval noir non-fiction one for the brow opera parody paul temple perl perl weekly challenge photography podcast politics postscript powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha python quantum rail raku ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs ruby rust scala science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance the weekly challenge thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel type 26 type 31 type 45 vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1