For a long time I didn’t pick up Henning Mankell’s books when I saw them in shops and libraries. Though I read a fair bit of crime I thought he wasn’t going to be my kind of author – too dark, too strange, too male.
But recently I’ve read a number of books by Swedish crime writers – Camilla Läckberg, Stieg Larsson, Marie Jungstedt – and the quality of those books and references to Mankell made me think that I should at least give him a try.
And then this book appeared on the returns trolley in the library and it seemed a good place to start.
When Kurt Wallander first appeared in Faceless killers he was a 42-year-old detective with many years of experience and a shambolic personal life.
In his introduction to this book Henning Mankell explains that after writing four novels he wanted to explore Wallander’s background, and so he started to write several short stories to fill in the blanks. After three more novels in the series this volume was complete.
So I thought I might ease myself in with stort stories at the start of the chronology.
I was hooked from the first paragraph. The prose was crisp, clear, evocative and compelling. The five stories were well constructed mysteries:
Starting, logically, with ‘Wallander’s First Case’ we meet a young uniformed policeman unofficially investigating the sudden death of a neighbour.
Then ‘The Man with the Mask’ is a simple but effective story of a young detective off duty and on the way home to his family walking into a crime scene.
‘The Man on the Beach’ finds the body of a tourist in the back of a taxi cab and an investigation trying to recreate the last known movements of the victim.
‘The Death of the Photographer’ has a seemingly ordinary local man beaten to death in his studio with no clear motive available.
And finally ‘The Pyramid’ links a light aircraft crash with the brutal killing of two elderly sisters who ran a sewing shop.
The stories are diverse but the quality and the style are consistent.
And they are enhanced by the development of their central character. They trace Wallander’s relationship with Mona, who will become his wife, then his ex-wife; his bond with his daughter Linda ; his troubled relationship with his father with whom he has an almost love-hate relationship. They also trace Wallander’s growth as a detective, as a man maybe too devoted to his job.
Some references I am sure passed me by beause I’m not familiar with the novels, but these short stories certainly have me interested enough to track down a copy of ‘Faceless Killers’ – job done!
Translated by Ebba Segerberg with Laurie Thompson