There’s a certain type of detective – middle aged, mid-life crisis, a little bumbling, failing relationships, unfulfilled, opera loving. Wallander fits this perfectly – in fact the opera surprised me – I thought that was just Morse. It’s an emblem for inner worth, showing they are in touch with some sort of litmus of pure spiritual beauty in an ugly world of sin, immorality and violence. It’s just not very convincing. Poor old Wallander – I’d seen him played by Kenneth Branagh as a sort of pretty, overgrown schoolboy, and in the Swedish version as a much uglier, slightly brutish character. It’s just hard to care really, especially when he makes fumbling overtures to the beautiful young new prosecutor, or sees his estranged daughter at the station, spying on her from behind a newsstand or some other stage prop.
Of course it’s a brilliant book – unputdownable! From the first gruesome murder, through the string of false clues and red herrings, to the final denouement – the chase scene. I have to say it gets a little unbelievable as Wallander chases through the streets and finally catches his younger prey – Wallander’s a man who’s been drinking his way through his domestic problems like an unhinged pop star, throwing himself through windows and falling off scaffolding – I doubt if I’d be able to stand up. The solution to the murder is dodgy too – coming like some sort of deus ex-machina out of the blue in the last 20 or so pages – ignore the rest if you just want to find out the anti-climactic ending.
Despite these criticisms, the plot moves along apace and Mankell introduces a string of well described and interesting characters – shady underworld figures, Swedes with skeletons in their cupboards, and coppers, each with their own little domestic issue or character foible.
Detective fiction – it’s not really for me. Sorry! Even so this has got just the right degree of violent action and tension, just enough detail to keep the characters interesting, and of course it’s such an easy read – as you sail from one dodgy character to the next, from one interrogation to the next grim murder, or strange Swedish, wintry skeleton.