Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Faceless Killers - Henning Mankell

I'm writing this distracted installment of the Vintage Crime Blog from the Labor and Delivery suite awaiting the birth of our second child.  Don't worry!  No contractions yet.

I've just finished my re-read of the first (written) Kurt Wallander novel by Henning Mankell, Faceless Killers.  This was the world's first introduction to Wallander, published in the original Swedish in 1991, and translated into English by Steven T. Murray in 1997.  These novels definitely fall into the procedural crime novel sub-genre, with detailed descriptions of evidence and team meetings.

The novel centers around the brutal murders of two farmers in souther Sweden.  The novel then takes us on a tour of Skåne as Wallander and his team try to solve the murder.  The ending is unexpected to say the least, and I'm not totally happy with it.  Don't worry though, the character development in this novel is priceless and will serve you well as you read the subsequent novels.

Wallander is my second favorite crime novel hero right behind Jack Reacher.  They actually share many of the same qualities.  Great determination and a love (actually in this case, obsession) with coffee.  The major differences would be Wallander is not very confident in himself, kind of a klutz, is out of shape, and doesn't really like guns.

I've read all of the Wallander novels that have been translated into English, and I have to say my favorite things are the idiosyncrasies of Swedish culture.  My favorite is the obsession with coffee.  Wallander is constantly drinking coffee, commenting on the temperature, the taste, and what kind of mug it is being served in.  Reacher fans should be familiar with this too!  I don't think this is just associated with Wallander, as the Millennium Trilogy by Steig Larsson is packed with discussion of coffee too.

Other, more bizarre details of southern Swedish life that recur throughout the Wallander novels include running over hares (rabbits!) on the road, uncertainty about immigration, general dislike of firearms, and for some reason, the men are frequently going outside to urinate (which I really don't understand since the novel takes place in the winter).

The most interesting part of the character development that takes place in this book is the internal monologue that goes through Wallander.   This is best displayed on page 244 of the current paperback edition; "Every time Wallander stepped into someone's home, he felt as though he were looking at the front cover of a book that he had just bought.  The flat, the furniture, the pictures on the walls, and the smells were the title.  Now he had to start reading."

So far, nine of the eleven titles have been translated into English.  I've read them all, and been impressed with them all, especially the later titles.  I hope my random, somewhat distracted recollections of the novel will get you interested in some vintage Swedish crime fiction!

My second daughter is probably going to be born in the next 12-18 hours, so I will be a little distracted for the next couple of weeks. I've brought Casino Royale with me to read while labor kicks into gear.  Now that's vintage!


  1. Okay, so this series is on my list to read next year and I'm super, super excited! The fact that Wallander is second on your list of favorite crime novel heros says something, right?

    I'm totally trusting you on this and think that Wallander might be a good fit for me bacause of your description of him..."not very confident in himself, kind of a klutz, is out of shape, and doesn't like guns." Okay, I got two out of the four, and I'll let you guess which ones they are.

    As for getting people interested...I don't see how your reviews can't help people want to know more. I love your reviews and really think this blog was an awesome idea.

    OH- and the fact that you wrote this from the Labor and Delivery suite totally shows your dedication. Can't wait to see the pictures.


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