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Henning Mankell, Den orolige mannen (The Troubled Man)

Leopard förlag,  2009. ISBN: 9789173432658

Reviewed by Laurie Thompson in SBR 2009:2

English Translation: The Troubled Man, translated by Laurie Thompson. Harvill Secker, 2011. ISBN 9781846553714.

Wallander fans will doubtless have gathered that contrary to expectations, Henning Mankell has been writing another novel featuring the Ystad-based sleuth who has entranced the world. It will be fascinating to see how they react to this book, which is not a police procedural like its predecessors in the series. Nevertheless, people disappear in mysterious circumstances, a dead body is found (suicide or murder?), and contemporary events seem to be linked closely with incidents in the 1980s when Russian submarines were allegedly discovered in Swedish territorial waters, apparently up to no good, and rumours abounded about another Soviet spy (following in the steps of Wennerström) at a high level in the Swedish military.

In this novel, dodgy goings-on are the responsibility of the Stockholm police, nothing to do with Wallander – officially. But Wallander is affected because he is delighted to discover that his beloved daughter, Linda, is pregnant, and eventually presents her father with a granddaughter. The father is Hans von Enke – not only an aristocrat, but also a high-flying banker: as such he is bound to raise the hackles of not only Wallander, but also Henning Mankell. He is in fact a very pleasant young man, and Wallander also gets on well with his parents, Håkan von Enke (a retired high-ranking submarine officer) and his wife Louise. But at his 75th birthday party, Håkan von Enke goes out of his way to make it clear to Wallander that he is scared – apparently under threat because in the 1980s he accused the Swedish government and top military officers of deliberately allowing a Russian submarine to escape from Swedish territorial waters. As this theme develops, both von Enke and his wife come under suspicion of being involved in elaborate espionage activities in the 1980s and later.

But fascinating though this strand of the plot is – and we all know how good a storyteller Henning Mankell is – it is not the main theme of this book. This is a novel about Kurt Wallander. We see familiar characteristics of Wallander the detective as he follows up aspects of the espionage plot, despite the fact that it is not his responsibility as a police officer in Ystad. His intuition points him in directions that more plodding police officers have overlooked, and he proves yet again what a brilliant detective he is. But other typical Wallander characteristics are writ large: he interferes in matters that are not his responsibility, he makes promises he has no intention of keeping, he tells lies when it suits him, he pays little attention to normal procedure (nor indeed to the law). But he gets results, of course.

Even more important than Wallander’s unofficial participation in the espionage theme are aspects of his private life. He is thrilled at the pros-pect of becoming a grandfather, but obsessed by his physical and mental deterioration. He is only 60, but seems to regard this as the doorway to senility. He continues to neglect his health, and suffers several diabetes-induced crises. He worries when he keeps finding himself in situations in which he has forgotten why he is where he is, or doing what he is doing. And he constantly finds himself in circumstances that remind him of his past life. There are many references to incidents and situations in previous books in the Wallander series (and not a few references to other Mankell novels as well). Wallander frequently has to confront his relationship with his former wife Mona, who is now an alcoholic wreck. And he is visited by the other love of his life, Baiba Liepa (from book No. 2 in the Wallander series, The Dogs of Riga), who is now dying of cancer. Throughout the book he is preoccupied by his deep love for his daughter, and his admiration of her qualities (most of which he realises are reflections of himself). His hope for the future is his new granddaughter: whatever he does, he must not let her down. Wallander is forced to reconsider his relationships with others, and even more importantly, to face up to realities of his own personality.

Kurt Wallander continues to perform as an outstanding detective in this novel, but the real subject matter – the troubled man of the title – is Wallander as a person rather than as a police officer. At the end, there is no confrontation with a Moriarty figure at the top of a high waterfall, but nevertheless Mankell devises a way of ensuring that this will be the last of the Wallander novels. Alert readers will have guessed what it is without needing to consult the final page of the novel, where all is revealed.

Also by Henning Mankell

  • Minnet av en smutsig ängel (Memoirs of a Dirty Angel). Reviewed by Laurie Thompson in SBR 2012:1.
  • Kinesen (The Chinese). Reviewed by Laurie Thompson in SBR 2008:2.
  • Innan frosten (Before the Frost). Reviewed by Laurie Thompson in SBR 2003:1.
  • Tea-Bag. Reviewed by Laurie Thompson in SBR 2002:1.
  • Danslärarens återkomst (The Return of the Dancing-Teacher). Reviewed by Birgitta Thompson in SBR 2001:1.
  • Pyramiden (The Pyramid). Reviewed by Birgitta Thompson in SBR 2001:1.
  • Brandvägg (Firewall). Reviewed by Laurie Thompson in SBR 1999:2.
  • I sand och lera (In Sand and Clay). Reviewed by Laurie Thompson in SBR 1999:2.
  • Steget efter (One Step Behind). Reviewed by Laurie Thompson in SBR 1997:2.
  • Den femta kvinnan (The Fifth Woman). Reviewed by Laurie Thompson in SBR 1997:1.
  • Comédia infantil. Reviewed by Laurie Thompson in SBR 1996:2.

Other reviews by Laurie Thompson

Other reviews in SBR 2009:2

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