Mystery Wednesday: Henning Mankell
In the spirit of sticking with one author for awhile, the mystery author I’ve been reading is Henning Mankell.
The author from Henning Mankell.com website.
Henning is Swedish and divides his time between his home country and Mozambique where he runs a theater. I’ll learn more about him from his website over the course of posting blog entries about his books.
By my count, he has written 19 books, 13 of them about Detective Kurt Wallander and his daughter Linda. I believe the rest are not mysteries – my impression is that they are more standard novels.
I’ve been reading the Wallander series which has been made into Swedish and British (and US?) movies and tv series. I try to read an author’s books in the order that they were written – obviously, this year, I’m focused on the ones I own already.
As mentioned last week, the ones that I own and have read are (all below are in the Wallendar series, all dates are for original publication in Swedish, and all are published in English by Vintage Crime):
Faceless killers 1991 HC
The dogs of Riga 1992 K
The white lioness 1993 HC
The man who smiled 1994 K
30) Sidetracked 1995 HC (I finished this last week)
One step behind 1997 [note that this one is out of publication order] HC
As mentioned last week, the ones that I own but have not read are:
31) The fifth woman 1996 HC
32) Firewall 1998 HC
I like reading them in order because he does keep a running plot going from book to book. Each one advances the plot. If you read them out of order he refers to things that puzzle (or at least intrigue) you.
Kurt Wallander is a detective in southwestern Sweden – based in the city of Ystad in the region referred to as Skåne (he includes maps of the pertinent areas covered in the story at the beginning of his books which is cool). I was in this region this year (in February, not my choice of season) and when my hosts were touring me around the countryside they told me I was in “Skåne” with a tone that indicated that this was rather vital information.
According to Wikipedia, it is a county. But it seems to have importance to Swedes that goes beyond being a county, at least beyond the way it would be in the US (it would never occur to me to tell someone as I toured them around Chicago – “This is Cook County!” The county is mostly quite rural, although the county seat, Malmo, is the third largest city in Sweden.
Wallander is like many famous detectives: worn-out, married to his job, perpetually on the point of permanently retiring or quitting, perpetually on the verge of full-blown alcoholism… He doesn’t have the regularly huge blow-outs with his supervisor that seem programmed into so many detective novels and tv shows. He is divorced and has a fraught relationship with his daughter Linda. He’s always trying to connect with her at the same time as blowing her off by missing her birthday or a scheduled commitment to do something together.
I’m not going to run you through any one of his plots, at least not in this entry. But I will tell you about something Mankell does that is interesting and educational. At least so far, in nearly all of his Wallander books he chooses a social injustice theme. In the course of the story, you learn a great deal about it.
So, for instance, in Sidetracked (#30 that I just finished) the social injustice is sex slavery. To say much more would give away key plot points, so I won’t – I think the reader realizes pretty early in the book that this is what is going on. In another book, the focus is on destructive religious cults and in another it is human organ sales. In one of his books, you learn a lot about what it was like in the twilight of the Soviet dominance over one of the Baltic countries – how people were resisting and what life could be like.
I like this seriousness to his books. I also like that they are bulky – in trade paperback form (these are not pocket-sized paperbacks, but the ones in bookstores that are bigger – say 5 X 8 inches) his books usually run to 400 pages or so. I enjoy a book that immerses you in a story that lasts for awhile. So, if you like mysteries, I highly recommend the Wallander series by Henning Mankell.
I don’t know why I’m currently so focused on Scandinavian mystery authors – I know that they are all the vogue and that, at least some, are quite good writers. I am of Norwegian descent and lived in Norway and went to Sweden this year, so I suppose that there is some ethnic loyalty. I enjoy the Scandinavian aesthetic (lots of nature, lots of snow, a sparseness…). But I’ll happily admit that part of it may just be a sort of kick – I can recognize a Scandinavian name and dig out all of their books surfing around on Amazon (and Amazon recommendations point me to any I miss) and have typed a list of all of them with all their titles. I have at least one book from most of them. I’ve read many of them and they are well-written.
Special Note: From the New York Times, this link goes to Janet Maslin’s review of The Troubled Man (spoiler alert – I purposely did not give the title of this review). Cool unexpected act of kindness: a hard copy of this review was included with a Henning Mankell book I received recently from International books or Econgo or Evansville Goodwill Industries (ordered through Amazon – yes, I should have made a note of which one!)
Happy Reading! Ruby
Books I will read this year are numbered consecutively by when I mention them in my blog. HC refers to hard copy and K refers to kindle copy.