The best Wallander novel – part 2

Also by The Slacker: mystery novel ‘New Holland’

‘meticulously researched…offers a vivid insight into modern Russia’

 

The Fifth Woman

The one where Wallander investigates the cruel murder of an old man, which is then followed by other murders that appear at first glance unrelated. Not for the first time, Wallander is left contemplating the new and violent Sweden he lives in, and wondering whether it needs another type of police officer. Fortunately he gets to the bottom of things: just in time for one man standing on a train platform.

Opening Wallander line: ‘Just after 5am on Monday 26th September, Kurt wallander woke in his flat on Mariagatan in central Ystad.’ The first thing he does is look at his hands and feel satisfied. Why? He’s tanned, having just been to Rome for a week with his father – the trip of his father’s lifetime.

Why it might be the best Wallander novel: This is one of the most critically acclaimed of the Wallander novels. Like Sidetracked, it benefits from an ingenious and original plot. Mankell interweaves the theme of domestic abuse into the narrative, making The Fifth Woman perhaps the darkest of all the novels. Other than Faceless Killers, it’s also the story which most comprehensively discusses the theme of moral collapse.

Classic Wallander sentences, found at random: ‘By 9pm he was so tired that he couldn’t think any longer. He shoved his notebook aside and called his daughter Linda. The phone rang into a void.’

One Step Behind

The one where Wallander is on the trail of a serial killer who first murders three young friends celebrating Midsummer in a wood. Soon after one of Wallander’s colleagues is killed, and the connection at first is not apparent. But he’s not the last victim of a madman who seems to go after people for no apparent reason.

Opening Wallander line: ‘On Wednesday, 7 August 1996, Kurt Wallander came close to being killed in a traffic accident just east of Ystad.’ He fell asleep at the wheel, and has been feeling extremely tired for a while. Time for a trip to the doctor’s.

Why it might be the best Wallander novel: It further explores collapse in Swedish society: what happens when someone feels excluded from their surroundings and takes it out on happy people? Maknell was writing fifteen years ago, but his theories seem pertinent given recent events. The plot is as clever as usual, leaving the reader guessing for long time about how the killer chooses his victims. The weak area is the murder of Svedberg – I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps because we know so little about Svedberg from the previous novels; it feels like Maknell’s just killing off his least accessible character.

Classic Wallander sentences, found at random: ‘It stopped raining shortly after midnight. Wallander walked down to the sea to think. It was what he most needed to do at this point.’

Firewall

The one where Wallander is plunged into an investigation involving two girls who’ve brutally attacked a taxi driver. A man suddenly collapses and dies at a cashpoint, and when a huge blackout blights the region a terrible discovery is made. Wallander finds himself on the trail of cyber terrorists determined to bring the Western banking system to its knees.

Opening Wallander line: ‘When Kurt Wallander got into his car on Mariagatan in Ystad, on the morning of October 6, 1997, it was with reluctance.’ He’s going to the funeral of Stefan, the teenage killer in Sidetracked, largely because he knows that almost nobody will attend it. What follows is a brief recap of all the funerals he’s been to in recent years, cleverly interweaved with a potted description of several Wallander stories – as if Mankell’s letting the reader know there’s a back catalogue to be discovered.

Luckily it gets better…

Why it might be the best Wallander novel: This is new territory for Mankell, in that the crime is aimed at the West per se and heavily involves modern technology. As with many of his other Wallander stories, Mankell had his finger on the pulse here, writing about cyber crime just as it was becoming prevalent. Some of the references do seem a little dated, such is the pace that technology moves on, but the novel benefits greatly from characters that shine more brightly than usual, and a love interest for Wallander that feels realistic – I never felt sorry for him in his failures with the very two-dimensional Baiba, but here I do.

Classic Wallander sentence, found at random: ‘He had a number of teeth missing and spoke with such a strong Skane accent that Wallander had trouble understanding him.’

The Pyramid

The one where Wallander lets us into his life before he becomes a forty-something divorcee who drinks too much on his own at nights. The Pyramid is a collection of shorter Wallander tales that takes us from his first case until a little while before Faceless Killers.

Opening Wallander line: ‘Wallander was off duty.’ Makes a change. It’s 1969, and Wallander’s just walked Mona down to the Copenhagen ferry where she’s spending a day with a friend. He promises he’ll be back to meet her that evening – but will he? Of course not – he finds a dead body next door and forgets all about her.

Why it might be the best Wallander novel: It isn’t: apart from the short story ‘The Pyramid’, these tales generally lack the tension of the other novels. Instead it’s one for the completists. Wallander’s early days and his character are well-described – the reader finds himself nodding as he understands how and why Wallander becomes that difficult man found at the beginning of Faceless Killers.

Classic Wallander sentences, found at random: ‘He was ready to leave at seven o’clock. He selected the sweater he usually wore when it was zero to eight degrees Celsius.’

The Troubled Man

The one where Wallander investigates the disappearance of a retired naval officer and, later on, his wife. His unofficial investigations lead him down the path of the Cold War, and espionage involving the Swedes, the Soviets and the Americans. As usual, everything seems pretty clear at first, but then it’s all turned on its head…

Opening Wallander line: ‘The year Kurt Wallander celebrated his fifty-fifth birthday, he fulfilled a long-held dream.’ Yes, he’s finally moved out of the depressing flat on Mariagatan and into the country house he has always wanted to – what he most looked forward to about the move was being able to look at the sea and, erm, urinate in the garden.

Why it might be the best Wallander novel: It isn’t – the feeling of finality about it makes this almost impossible. Also, Mankell may have lost his mojo after such a long break from Wallander stories – there is just a little bit too much pottering, pondering and meandering here. Still, I closed it with deep regret that there won’t be another Wallander story, and the hope that maybe Mankell will change his mind. But Wallander’s final years are, according to the author, his own.

Classic Wallander sentences, found at random: ‘Wallander walked down the hill to a sausage stand across from the hospital. A lump of mashed potato fell off his tray, and a jackdaw swooped down immediately to steal it.’

Saul Pope is the author of ‘New Holland’, a mystery novel set in Russia and published by Espresso Books. He also writes for the football magazine ‘When Saturday Comes’.

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