One of the things I love about mysteries, is that many develop into series, where you follow the character or characters through their lives. Sometimes this is badly done and the plot of each book is simply there to hang a familiar character on, or to showcase the attributes that make these fictional people. In others the characters are trumped by the plot and they don’t seem to grow or develop. Occasionally though, a balance is struck that creates a believable character or characters and a tight plot, where each work to the others advantage. Such is the work of Henning Mankell in his Wallander series.
Prior to the world’s discovery of the joys of Nordic mysteries, with the millennium series by Steig Larson; the work of many Scandinavian mystery novelists went unnoticed. I was lucky enough to discover Kurt Wallander and his cronies on the Ystad police force through the recommendation of a library patron. Like my other favourite detective, Rebus, who is featured in the novels of Ian Rankin; Wallander is a broody character, gruff on the surface yet with an internal sense of goodness. He has difficulty relating to others and his personal relationships are a mess, a situation not helped by his drinking. His dry wit, tenaciousness and near obsession to solve a case make him an excellent detective, but the toll on his soul is great as he is forced to delve in the darkest part of man’s psyche.
The first book in the series to be translated into English was actually the second Wallander novel. “Faceless Killers”, finds Kurt and company investigating the brutal murders on an elderly couple, with the wife’s final word being ‘foreign”. As anti-immigration feelings are running high, the last thing Wallander and his team need is random vigliante justice.
Wallander has proved a popular character, having both Swedish and British television adaptions. The Swedish version is available on the internet and the BBC version starring Kenneth Branagh is available at the library. Branagh has captured the pathos of Kurt’s character and I find that I now have difficulty not picturing his face when I read a Wallander. In case, your curious we own the first two seasons.
The landscape and the atmosphere of the books always contributes to the story, leaving you with a sombre, fragile and unsettled feeling. Mankell says he have completed the Wallander series, having taken Kurt from mid career to retirement, and I feel that I’ve lost a friend.