Published April 5th, 2011
Long before Lisbeth Salander hacked her way into readers’ hearts, Inspector Kurt Wallander was cracking cases amidst the rural landscapes of southern Sweden. Wallander, a world-weary, diabetic detective prone to health problems and morose introspection, burst onto the scene with Faceless Killers in 1991 and Dogs of Riga soon after. Since then, author Henning Mankell has achieved blockbuster success with nine subsequent mysteries, which have been translated into forty languages.
Mankell also set the stage for a renaissance of Nordic Noir, which includes a growing number of Scandinavian crime series. But unlike Stieg Larrson’s digital age reporters and wizard hackers, Mankell’s provincial detective is skittish around computers and learned to use email only after his daughter and fellow cop, Linda, egged him on. An internet-savvy supercop he is not, which is part of his appeal. While Kenneth Branagh stars in the award-winning BBC series (a new installment is in the works), Wallander is as Swedish as they come: reticent, cerebral, isolated.
The Sweden of Mankell’s books is a chilly place, literally and emotionally, especially for Wallander. But the detective’s emotional vulnerability is what endears him to his fans. Mankell, who has admitted in interviews that he is “not very fond of Wallander as a person,” also describes his anguished hero as “very human.” Or, as the Swedish author comments on his website: “He is very dedicated to his work but can still doubt and worry whether he is doing the right thing or not. And [Wallander] is sometimes longing to be somewhere else, far away from all the misery. Just as we all can do every now and then.”
The latest—and most likely the last—volume in the series, The Troubled Man, finds the Ystad police inspector feeling all of his sixty years. Despite a country house, a new dog and a new granddaughter, all is not well. Suffering from memory problems (his father’s dementia has haunted Wallander in previous books), he gets suspended from the police force for an embarrassing incident involving his gun. Then his daughter’s future father-in-law, Hakan von Enke, suddenly disappears.
Wallander heads to Stockholm to search for the missing von Enke, a retired Swedish naval officer. His disappearance, the detective believes, may be connected to an incident from von Enke’s past involving Russian submarines in Swedish waters. As Wallander investigates further, he soon finds himself turning inward, examining his own past and sifting through painful memories.
As the investigation brings Wallander closer to exposing Cold War espionage secrets, a massive political scandal threatens to erupt. And this, while Wallander grapples with his most daunting adversary: himself. Only Mankell could so masterfully interweave melancholic reflections on loss and aging with a gripping whodunit that keeps readers hooked until the end. For Wallander, the author’s brilliant, brooding detective, it’s a fitting farewell.
Find more at A Kurt Wallander Mystery