Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Police inspector Kurt Wallander

by Jorn Lier Horst, Norway

The series about police inspector Kurt Wallander counts twelve books. The fifth woman and One step after, respectively book 6 and 7, are two of my personal favorites.
In "The Fifth Woman" Inspector Kurt Wallander is baffled and appalled by two murders. Holger Eriksson, a retired car dealer and bird watcher, is impaled on sharpened bamboo poles in a ditch behind his secluded home, and the body of a missing florist is discovered--strangled and tied to a tree. It quickly becomes clear that the same person is responsible.
The book has become a favourite because it is perhaps here Henning Mankell lets us get real close to Wallander. The relationship with the people around him is reeling. He has difficulties in adapting socially with colleagues at work. He does not understand his daughter Linda. His relations with his ex-wife is strained. He can not get along with his elderly father and he is unsure about his relationship with his girlfriend in Riga. In addition to this is his health shrinking. With opera music on the stereo, he sits in the apartment in Mariagatan and speculating on whether to join the police was the right choice.
"One step behind" is a favourite simply because it is the best book in the series. On Midsummer’s Eve, three role-playing teens dressed in eighteenth-century garb are shot in a secluded Swedish meadow. When one of Inspector Kurt Wallander’s most trusted colleagues–someone whose help he hoped to rely on to solve the crime–also turns up dead, Wallander knows the murders are related. But with his only clue a picture of a woman no one in Sweden seems to know, he can’t begin to imagine how. Reeling from his own father’s death and facing his own deteriorating health, Wallander tracks the lethal progress of the killer. Locked in a desperate effort to catch him before he strikes again, Wallander always seems to be just one step behind.
Both books are crime novels written with a pronounced political indignation, social care and psychological interest. Mankell writes from a politically left-wing and shares his vision of the world with us. His political indignation is facing the Swedish welfare system defects - against a social system that promises to be protective and inclusive, but still fail so many of its inhabitants.
The books reflect the reality we live in. A world that is becoming tougher and more violent. The policeman Kurt Wallander is a reflection on how the negative development affects us all.
I met Henning Mankell first time under the big book fair in Gothenburg in 2009. Then I felt already that I knew him. Eighteen years earlier, he had published the first book about police inspector Kurt Wallander. I read it the first year I went to the Police Academy and thought then that this was what I wanted with my education. I wanted to be a policeman like Kurt Wallander. Get me right: Not a disillusioned, sometimes bitter, argumentative, divorced and bold detective with an unhealthy lifestyle, but an investigator with conscience, integrity and humanity that believes that he can help to create a better world - a cop who could make a difference.
Kurt Wallander is no gritty cop. He responds to danger with lowered shoulders and with a numbing feeling that he faces is more than he can handle.
He solves cases through painstaking and what is called traditional police work. Trying to illuminate them from different sides, trying to find connections. But he also has an exceptionally intuitive trait. Through listening to an inner voice he pulls up threads from something he initially did not notice - a replica, an image, an insignificant detail that has stuck in the subconscious. A detail beyond the expected, irregularities and exceptions that may not have something to do with the case, but that turns out to lead to something.
Henning Mankell 1948-2015
Being alive has its time, being dead has its own,” is an incantation that followed Wallander from when he as 23 years old were patrolling the streets of his hometown of Malmo and was stabbed by a drunken man. We find the mantra again in One step after, where Mankell uses Wallander to reflect on how all things have become worse around him. How violence has increased and intensified and that Sweden has become a country with an increasing number of closed doors.
On the 5th of October 2015, Henning Mankell dies at the age of 67 years. He left a world that is darker than when he entered it.

I will remember Henning Mankell as a spacious and wise mystery writer who used the genre to take up important questions in contemporary life.


  1. "I will remember Henning Mankell as a spacious and wise mystery writer who used the genre to take up important questions in contemporary life."

    What greater eulogy can any of us hope for? Well said, Jørn.

  2. Thank you, Jørn. We will miss both Kurt and Henning Mankell.

  3. I was a great Mankell fan for many years and what a loss to the world... Thelma Straw in Manhattan

  4. Jorn, I tried mightily several times to read Mankell. I am sure the books are great. And Mankell 's untimely death is sad. But I could not take the unrelenting sadness of his stories--the gloom, the misery. I kept putting the book down and thinking about giving Wallander a puppy. I hope Mankell found life lighter and more enjoyable. He was beloved as a writer. That has to have helped. No?

  5. I was reading the last Wallander book while in Venice, I had tears streaming down my face as I saw what was happening to him, and his realisation of what was happening to him. Mankell is a great loss, we have lost a lot of shining stars in writing in 2015.