Vanessa's Reviews > Faceless Killers

Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell
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Jan 13, 2011

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bookshelves: read-in-2011

Well before all things Larsson and Salander, there was Swedish mystery writer Henning Mankell. This is the first of his series about Swedish police detective Kurt Wallander (pronounced "Vall-ander") and I liked it well enough to want to continue with the series soon.

The story is more of a police procedural than a mystery-as hazy of a line as that sometimes is-about the unusually brutal murder of an elderly couple in rural southern Sweden. Wallander, acting as chief while his boss is on vacation for New Years, leads a group of detectives in Ystad investigating the murder. When it is leaked to the press that the dying wife said the murderers were foreign, this leads to a second investigation on a series of increasingly violent retaliatory crimes on the exploding refugee population. Mankell used his series as a vehicle to explore the ails of Swedish society and here the problems are racism and the Swedish government's ineptitude in dealing with a largely faceless and unaccounted for shadow world of foreign asylum seekers. The other issue is the growing inexplicable and over-the-top violence of our time causing Wallander to muse at one point, "We're living in the age of the noose," a reference to the intricate noose found tied to one of the murder victim's necks.

Overall, I liked this story. Wallander is in many ways the standard-issue divorced and disillusioned detective who drinks too much but by the end he felt like a real person too. His drinking gets him into trouble. He is driven to solve both cases and prevent more violence but he makes mistakes. He bungles his personal relationships and at one point makes an unfortunate pass at a female co-worker. I like that Mankell humanizes Wallander by having him frequently get injured in the course of the investigation and not making an instant recovery as well as his making note of telling details like his lapsed laundry habits in the wake of his wife's departure. I also liked his relationship with his distant father. The other detectives, with the exception of Rydberg, were a bit hard to tell apart, partly due to my struggling with the Swedish surnames but also because there were so many and they lacked many distinguishing details. Mankell has said the latest book, the 10th, is his last Wallander mystery. I wasn't certain what Mankell was going for while I was reading it but I've found that the book's mood has stayed with me after I finished it and I expect it will for some time. Oh brave new world that has such people in it.
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