Thursday, November 5, 2009

Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

46. Faceless Killers - first in the Wallander series
by Henning Mankell
mystery, 1991
translated by Steven T. Murray
finished, 10/17/09

After watching Wallander on PBS, I just had to begin reading the series by Henning Mankell. I was a bit nervous, since oftentimes translations simply do not work, but this one, by Steven T. Murray was so marvelous that I never even thought about it being a translation. I am so glad I saw the television production first because I could picture Kenneth Branagh as Wallander. Just as John Thaw was a perfect Morse, so Branagh is a perfect Wallander. The programs are available on dvd from Netflix. I hope there are more coming.

This first book in the series was published in 1991. Kurt Wallander is a criminal detective in his early forties, the same age as Mankell was at that time, and incidently, as I was, since I was born in the same year as the author. Chapter one begins with the crime which has taken place, and in the next chapter we meet Mr. Wallander. His wife has recently left him; he is estranged from his nineteen year old daughter who comes and goes without much communication; he is living on junk food and gaining weight; and his father, with whom he has a difficult relationship, seems to be losing his mental faculties. His situation mirrors the landscape, the dull, dark time of year (the book begins on January 7, 1990), and the serious crime which has been committed. Out in the countryside an old farmer has been murdered and his wife left to die, which she does before long. The murders are particularly brutal which leads Wallander to puzzle over who would do such a thing. There are some odd clues. First, there is a noose around the woman's neck with an unusual knot. Second, the only word the woman utters before she dies is 'foreign.' Third, the horse in the barn did not whinny. This last clue is in fact what drew a neighbor to go over to the house and find the bodies.

In the course of solving the crime, we get a good look at Swedish society at that time. There is mention that robberies of the elderly in rural areas is not that uncommon. There is growing dismay about the immigration laws in the country. There are anti-refugee movements. Because of the woman's last word, Wallander cannot rule out that a 'foreigner' may have committed the murders, but he is loath to let these thoughts out to the press, and hence fuel anti-foreign sentiments.

This is a complex story, and utterly fascinating. We go right along with Wallander, following the twists and turns of the case. He is one of the most interesting characters I've yet met in detective fiction, and I am so thrilled that there are many more books ahead to read. I have four of them on my shelf, and will buy the rest if these four are anywhere near as good as this excellent first book.


  1. I have yet to read any Henning Mankell, but your post has pushed him further up the queue, as it were, Nan. Come to think of it, I haven't seen the programmes either; I'm seriously behind the times!

  2. Margaret, did you review it? I thought it was so, so good.

    Karen, as you wrote once in a review of some mystery book, it isn't what I usually think of as my cup of tea - in subject matter, etc. but I am simply riveted.

  3. You enjoyed it so much that you might buy (gasp) the other ones!! Now that is some recommendation!!!

  4. That sounds really compelling. I am adding it to my booklist of want to reads.

  5. I really loved Wallander series on TV. Branagh was perfect.
    I haven't read the books but my husband is a big fan of them and lots of borrowers at the library are too.

  6. Staci, I bought the first two, and after reading FK, I bought three more. :<)

    Susan, I'm eager to go on with the series.

    Cait, I'd have borrowed except my library only had a couple, and I wanted to read them all in order.

  7. I really miss not being able to see some of the excellent British TV series here in France.
    I must find the book!

  8. K, is there nothing like netflix there in a country that is renowned for great film? But the book is so good, and well, you can picture Mr. B just fine without having seen the television version, I'm sure. :<)

  9. Yes, Branagh was very good but Rolf Lassgård is better. I know lots of English speaking persons aren't fond of subtitles but if you can stand it - look out for Lassgård.
    Mankell's boks are good. Now I'm also looking forward to the movie that will be made from Johan Theorin's first book. That one is better than Mankell's first.

  10. Christina, when I first posted about the PBS version of Wallander, someone left a comment with a link to the Swedish version:

    But it seems the star is a woman - Wallander's daughter, Linda?? played by Johanna Sallstrom, who has since died. If you come back to read this, I'd like to hear more about the series, and in particular why this clip didn't have Rolf Lassgard. Or did I just miss his name? I wish these programs would come onto Netflix. I love subtitles! I even turn them on if they are available on English speaking shows. It is so easy to miss a word here and there. And I am a great fan of non-English film. I did find a clip with RL:

    I wonder if we will ever have the opportunity to see them over here. I sure hope so.

    You had mentioned Johan T. in a comment on that first Wallander post, and I have Echoes From the Dead in my Amazon shopping cart! It looks as dark as the Mankell stories. Are there lighter Swedish works in translation you might recommend? :<)

  11. Christina, I went to Netflix to check and there are two Wallanders with Rolf Lassgard which are able to be 'saved' which usually means that they will be available sometime. The White Lioness, 1996 and One Step Behind, 2005. There is also a RL movie which is not a Wallander which is available now, and I've put it in the queue called Under the Sun.

  12. Hi, Nan,
    two different Swedish actors have starred in Wallander-movies. Both are excellent actors, though Lassgård is my personal favourite. Lassgård did Wallander in two, I think, movies, which were good when they were new. I haven't seen them in some time, don't know if they've aged.
    The other actor is Krister Henrikson who plays Wallander in a lot of movies, some of them also have Johanna Sällström as Linda.
    Henrikson is, as I said, a great actor, but I can't see him as Wallander. These movies are not as good as the Lassgård or the Branagh ones.
    The film Under the sun is a movie made in Swedish by Colin Nutley, who is English by birth but who has lived a long time in Sweden. The movie is based on one of H E Bates books. I have read some books by Bates, Oh to be in England and such, and those books all have a sort of gaiety about them. I haven't read the one Under the sun is based on. It might have been a bit more serious, the movie is good but is not a movie where you sit and laugh. See it for Lassgård and the other actors.
    I find that I haven't read all the new Swedish crime stories but I,m doing a bit of thinking and will write some suggestions as soon as I can!

  13. Thank you so much for taking the time to come back, and to let me know all this. Please feel free to email me if you want to talk more about Swedish lit and movies, and Sweden in general. If you click on view my complete profile on the left, this will bring you to the contact me page.


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