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We mystery fans of a certain age have all read the Martin Beck police procedurals of the husband and wife team, Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall. But the last of them was published in 1975 and the series now appears in the Black Lizard/Vintage Crime series. It's unlikely anyone's read many Swedish mysteries since. They've an heir now though in the form of Henning Mankell and his slovenly but stolid hero, Inspector Kurt Wallander. Where Wahloo and Sjowall used the Beck series to critique the welfare state of the 60s and 70s from a more radical Left perspective, Wallander's perspective is more conservative and the Sweden he patrols is a place that seems to be on the verge of the abyss because of the "successes" of socialism. It's both dependent on immigrants to fill the jobs that there are no young Swedes to do and deeply resentful of the fact that the newcomers aren't being assimilated, though no one shows the slightest interest in making the effort that such assimilation would require. It's a society where folks seem to have pretty much quit trying:
We're living as if we were in mourning for a lost paradise, he thought. [...] But those days have irretrievably vanished, and it's questionable whether they were ever as idyllic as we remember them.
Or, as Mr. Mankell puts it elsewhere:
Sweden had turned into a country where people more than anything else seemed to be afraid of being bothered.
Predictably, the conditions in such a nation are rather distressing and Wallander -- estranged from his wife, daughter, father and friends; overweight; alcoholic; and so on and so forth -- is thoroughly distressed.

The case he's on concerns the especially brutal torture and murder of an elderly farm couple. The only clues are the unusual ligature on a rope used in the crime and the wife's dying whisper that their attackers were "foreign." This puts the police and various nationalist groups on the track of the local foreign worker population. Wallander soon finds himself spending as much time dealing with attacks by racists as with the initial crime and Mr. Mankell uses the scenario as a way to explain both Wallander's own frustration with an immigration system that's obviously badly broken and as a warning about the escalating tensions and the hatreds of folk less level-headed than the detective.

Had the author known how successful the series was going to be he might have slowed the pace of the changes that Wallander undergoes in the course of the novel. He crashes, burns, and rises so quickly as to disorient the reader a bit and the crime is solved at so stately a pace that the contrast is even more jarring. But the detective is a sympathetic character and the observations about Sweden, in particular, and Europe, generally, will be eye-opening for many Americans. The cultural backdrop against which the story is set is just as bleak and barren as the wintry landscape. Read it and fear for the future of Europe.


Grade: (B+)


See also:

Henning Mankell (2 books reviewed)
Henning Mankell Links:

    -AUTHOR SITE: is the site for English-speaking fans of Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander Mystery series
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Henning Mankell (IMDB)
    -BOOK SITE: The Man Who Smiled (Inspector
    -GOOGLE BOOK: The Man Who Smiled by Henning Mankell
    -INTERVIEW: Henning Mankell interview: His melancholy detective Kurt Wallander started a boom in ‘Scandi’ crime fiction. So why is he ditching him? (John Preston, 21 Mar 2011, The Telegraph)
    -INTERVIEW: Will author really take Wallander off the case? (John Timpane, 4/05/11, Philadelphia INQUIRER)
    -INTERVIEW: Henning Mankell: 'No One Is Born Evil': In a SPIEGEL interview, bestselling Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell talks about his reaction to the Utøya massacre, the absurdity of Anders Breivik's ideas and the need to engage in dialogue with the right wing. (Der Spiegel)
    -Interview: Henning Mankell, author: MOVE over, Wallander – Henning Mankell tells DAVID ROBINSON why his latest fictional detective owes a lot to his own father (David Robinson, 2/13/10, The Scotsman)
    -PROFILE: The 50 Greatest Crime Writers, No 49: Henning Mankell (Times of London, 4/17/08)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Henning Mankell (Mark Lawson, 1/10/02, BBC4)
    -PROFILE: Henning Mankell: Chronicle of a death foretold: Sweden's biggest literary export since Strindberg, has for decades led a double life. His latest book pays tribute to his African inspiration (Independent, 4/07/06)
    -INTERVIEW: "Western Apathy Towards Africa Keeps Me Awake at Night": Swedish best-selling mystery author and longtime Africa resident Henning Mankell, 56, discusses the anatomy of poverty in Africa, the AIDS epidemic and the breakdown of international aid to developing countries. (Der Spiegel, 12/14/04)
    -INTERVIEW: All along the watchtower: Henning Mankell tells Nick Hasted how he watches over Sweden from Africa (Nick Hasted, January 12, 2002, The Guardian)
    -INTERVIEW: 'She was so full of life, spirits, energy' (Sean French, September 14, 2003, The Observer)
    -PROFILE: The rich language of death is universal (A.N. Wilson, 3/24/03, Daily Telegraph)
    -PROFILE: Killing them in Europe (Donald Dewey, Autumn 2003, Scandinavian Review)
    -PROFILE: Inspector Norse...: A portly cop in bleakest Scandinavia makes an unlikely thriller hero. But Henning Mankell's novels are the best Swedish export since flatpack furniture (Nicci Gerrard, March 2, 2003, The Observer)
    -PROFILE: True crime: Henning Mankell was raised by his father, a judge, in a flat above a courtroom, and has had an interest in legal systems since childhood. He worked as a merchant seaman and a stagehand before turning to fiction. Now, as the author of an acclaimed series of detective novels, he divides his time between his native Sweden and Mozambique, where he runs a theatre (Ian Thomson, November 1, 2003, The Guardian )
    -PROFILE: Murder in a Cold Climate (MARGO JEFFERSON, April 14, 2002, , NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell (Michael; C. Moynihan, WSJ)
    -REVIEW: of The Troubled Man (Jake Kerridge, The Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of The Troubled Man (Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Troubled Man (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell (Toby Clements, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Before the Frost by Henning Mankell (Joan Smith, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The White Lioness by Henning Mankell (John Mullan, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of One Step Behind by Henning Mankell (Mark Lawson, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of One Step Behind by Henning Mankell (Sarah Crompton, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of The Fifth Woman by Henning Mankell (Maggie Gee, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Firewall by Henning Mankell (M John Harrison, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Firewall (Stephen Robinson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of The Return of the Dancing Master by Henning Mankell (Louise France, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Return of the Dancing Master, by Henning Mankell (Sue Arnold, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Return of the Dancing Master (Toby Clements, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of I Die, But the Memory Lives On: The World's Aids Crisis and the Memory Book Project by Henning Mankell (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of DEPTHS By Henning Mankell (Lucy Ellman, NY Times Book Review)
    -Mankell explores underneath life's ice (Ed Siegel, June 9, 2009, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEWS: Henning Mankell Archives (EuroCrime)
    -REVIEW: of The Man Who Smiled by Henning Mankell (LJ Hurst, Shots Mag)
    -REVIEW: of Man Who Smiled (Ian Thomson, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Man Who Smiled (Paul Binding, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Man Who Smiled (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Man Who Smiled (Ed Siegel, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEW: of Man Who Smiled (Sharon Wheeler, Reviewing the Evidence)
    -REVIEW: of Man Who Smiled (Marcel Berlins, Times of London)
    -REVIEW: of Man Who Smiled (Patrick Anderson, Washington Post)

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