Henning Mankell creates a 'female Wallander' following star's suicide
Grief-stricken author ends award-winning crime series after actress who played Wallander's daughter takes her own life
The Observer, Sunday 27 December 2009
As a dysfunctional, divorced, middle-aged man with personal issues, Swedish detective Kurt Wallander has become a famous figure in crime fiction.
His creator, Henning Mankell, is about to introduce a female protagonist, caught up in an equally grim world of bizarre multiple murders, who may prove as popular as the portly figure who has captivated millions of readers worldwide. But Judge Birgitta Roslin might never have been created had a tragic, lonely death close to Mankell not forced him to adapt his award-winning formula.
Wallander first appeared in Sweden in 1991 in Faceless Killers, with the English translation arriving in 1997. Nine Wallander mysteries were written, set in bleak, flat farmland inhabited by few around the small town of Ystad in southern Sweden. Having introduced Wallander's daughter, Linda, early on as a supporting character, and later as a policewoman, played by Johanna Sällström in the Swedish TV series, the author decided to "retire" the male detective and embark on a natural progression.
In Mankell's imagination, Before the Frost, published in 2002, was to be the first in a projected three-part series where Linda would take centre stage. But in 2007, Sällström committed suicide. The 32-year-old was found alone by police at her Malmö home on 13 February 2007, shortly after being released from a psychiatric unit.
Depression, traced to her surviving the 2004 tsunami when she was on holiday in Thailand with her young daughter, Tallulah, was believed to be the cause, though no suicide note was found. Sällström had clung on to life that day by holding on to a tree with one hand and her three-year-old daughter with the other. The experience had a devastating effect.
After her death, Mankell was unable to write another novel with Linda, saying his grief and guilt were too great. The result was Birgitta Roslin, who has to endure the same sort of grim daily grind as Wallander. She plays the central role in The Man From Beijing, Mankell's latest novel, to be released in the UK in February.
Traditional Wallander themes are all present, with the opening chapter containing a crime as horrific as the one that first confronted Wallander in Faceless Killers: the victim of a savage murder is found in a sleepy hamlet buried in the snow. A crime unprecedented in Swedish history is uncovered, with 18 more victims found dead. Roslin reads about the massacre and realises she has a family connection to one of the couples and decides to investigate after disagreeing with the police's actions.
Although Mankell released a new Wallander book, The Worried Man, this year in Sweden – 10 years after the detective's last appearance and with an English translation expected by 2011 – the author has said it will be the final novel in the series. But British fans will only have to wait another week for a fix, with Kenneth Branagh returning on 3 January in the first of three new feature-length episodes based on Mankell's books.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009