Virginia's Reviews > The Dogs of Riga

The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell
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's review
Jan 03, 2016

it was ok
bookshelves: mainstream, crime-thriller
Read in March, 2012

Initially I was 3 stars out of loyalty for the series, and because compared to some of the 2s I've awarded, at least Dogs of Riga is a stylistically painless read. But the bad news is that the whole story is utterly implausible - irritatingly so.
Shortly after the initial discovery of the bodies it is absolutely clear that the murders weren't committed in his jurisdiction, let alone his country and the victims not Swedish. Nonetheless after the death - not in Sweden - of a non-Swedish detective, Wallander is suddenly in Riga aiding the investigation and pursuing conspiracies that have nothing to do with him. Even worse, given only the briefest of glimpses into life and the regime in Latvia, how can we as reader really engage with what the characters or what they have at stake? The conspiracy itself isn't really inspired, it's police corruption, it involves drugs and that's about all we're told.
I can understand why Mankell was inspired to write about Latvia in this period of Soviet transition, the history is interesting, the plot potential endless. His mistake in my view was trying to put Wallander centre stage. Instead of a book that fleshes out the city, the regime and the characters involved in the conspiracy, instead of revealing - or even explaining to us - the issues that inspire so much fear and loyalty, we are treated to Wallander wandering around a city he doesn't know, meeting people in the dark, none of whom really explain much of anything - he's a stranger after all. And his justification for risking his life and career, being smuggled back into the country under a false name to get involved in something in which he has no stake? He's fallen in love with the widow of the fallen detective! After meeting her briefly, deep in her own grief, and looking into those helpless brown eyes? I call bullshit.
To round out this ridiculous story, we have him safe back in Sweden, having delivered the secret file with the details of her husbands investigation, a file for which men will kill, yet the contents of which are never revealed to us. We also discover that the rest of the story was a complete red herring as none of it leads anywhere.
By Mr Mankell's own admission he wasn't very familiar with Latvia which I assume is his excuse for the depiction of the place being only so-so. This makes me really annoyed. If he wanted to write about Latvia in this period, why didn't he research it properly and write a book about it? He could have told the exact same story with the Latvian characters and their struggles central and well developed. Instead he copped out and squeezed the idea into his Wallander series. Shame.
OK I'm back to two stars now.
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