Monday, October 5, 2015

The death of Henning Mankell

Henning Mankell, the Swedish creator of the Inspector Kurt Wallander series, in Stockholm in June. CreditTt News Agency, via Reuters
Henning Mankell, the Swedish novelist and playwright best known for police procedurals that were translated into a score of languages and sold by the millions throughout the world, died on Monday in Goteborg, Sweden. He was 67.
The cause was cancer, said his literary agent Anneli Hoier. Last year, Mr. Mankell disclosed that doctors had found tumors in his neck and left lung.
Mr. Mankell was considered the dean of the so-called Scandinavian noir writers, who gained global prominence for novels that blended edge-of-your-seat suspense with flawed, compelling protagonists and strong social themes. Among the others are Arnaldur Indridason of Iceland, Jo Nesbo of Norway and Stieg Larsson of Sweden.
But it was Mr. Mankell who led the way, with 10 mystery novels featuring Inspector Kurt Wallander, a gruff but humane detective troubled by self-doubt, overeating, alcoholism and, eventually, dementia. Most of the action in those books takes place in and around Ystad, a real-life town of 18,350 inhabitants on the Baltic Sea, about 380 miles south of Stockholm, which has become a magnet for Wallander buffs.
Mr. Mankell's "Faceless Killers," published in 1991, won the Glass Key award. CreditOrdfront
Mr. Mankell divided his time between Stockholm and Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, where he was the artistic director of the main theater, Teatro Avenida.
“I came to Africa with one purpose: I wanted to see the world outside the perspective of European egocentricity,” he wrote in an essayfor The New York Times in 2011. “I could have chosen Asia or South America. I ended up in Africa because the plane ticket there was cheapest.”
Though Africa was rarely the main setting for Mr. Mankell’s detective novels, it informed his sensitivity to the mistreatment of non-European immigrants in enlightened Sweden.
“Solidarity with those in need run through his entire work and manifested itself in action until the very end,” Robert Johnsson, Mr. Mankell’s literary agent for Sweden, and Dan Israel, with whom he founded the publishing company Leopard, said in a statement.
In “Firewall” (1998), he managed to adeptly intertwine financial cybercrime with colonialism. That novel begins with the discovery of the body of what appears to be a heart attack victim lying in front of an A.T.M. in Ystad and the seemingly unconnected murder of a cabdriver by a teenage girl on the outskirts of the town.
The novel ends with the villain — a white doctor in Africa driven by anticolonialist rage — flying to Sweden in a frantic attempt to ignite a meltdown of the global financial system. Wallander saves the day, but only after stumbling into the conspiracy through his hapless affair with a woman who is the villain’s accomplice.
Mr. Mankell grew irritated over attempts by readers to trace elements of his life in Wallander’s. Still, the parallels were there. Born in Stockholm on Feb. 3, 1948, Mr. Mankell was abandoned by his mother, along with his two siblings, and they moved in with their father, a judge, in Sveg, a small community in northern Sweden.
Through his father’s court activities, Mr. Mankell learned about criminal cases in a small-town setting not unlike Wallander’s investigations in Ystad. And like the author’s mother, Wallander is an errant parent who abandons a child — though the two reconcile in the course of the detective series.
Mr. Mankell, whose grandfather was a composer, passed on his love of classical music to his famous detective. Wallander spends many lonely nights listening to Mozart operas or walking the windswept beaches of Ystad with his dog, Jussi — named after Jussi Bjorling, the great Swedish tenor.
And Wallander’s repeated failures at lasting romances echoed the author’s own: Mr. Mankell was married four times, the last to Eva Bergman, daughter of the Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman. “It shows I am an optimist,” Mr. Mankell said in a 2013 interview with The Guardian.
Mr. Mankell embarked on a literary career early. Hoping to emulate Joseph Conrad, he went to sea in the Swedish merchant marine at 16. But he quit when, after numerous voyages, he got no further than the British industrial port of Middlesbrough.
Besides, when he was 19 a play he had written was produced in Stockholm. A year later, he was named an assistant theater director and traveled around the country with touring productions.
It was not until 1991, when he was 43, that the first of his Wallander novels, “Faceless Killers,” was published. In the opening scene, Ystad police officers, led by Wallander, are called to an isolated farmhouse, where they find the owner, an elderly man, tortured to death. His wife, who has been bludgeoned, survives only long enough to utter a single word: “Foreign.” That incites Ystad mobs to attack local immigrants in revenge. The novel won the Glass Key award, given annually to a crime novel written by a Scandinavian.
Mr. Mankell’s popularity grew with each Wallander mystery. In “Sidetracked” (1995), a series of aged men, apparently model citizens, are killed in increasingly grisly fashion and then scalped by the murderer.
In “One Step Behind” (1997), three young revelers, dressed as 18th-century nobles, are found shot to death in a forest. And in “The Man Who Smiled” (1994), a depressed, alcoholic Wallander comes out of brief retirement to investigate a double murder that may be linked to a wealthy philanthropist.
Like almost all of the Wallander mysteries, these best sellers were adapted for television. The British actor and directorKenneth Branagh played Wallander in several BBC broadcasts. Perhaps the most successful Wallander screen portrayals were for Swedish television and starred the Swedish actor Krister Henriksson, whom Mr. Mankell often said came closest to his own image of the detective.
Income from his novels and their screen adaptations made Mr. Mankell a multimillionaire. But he continued to espouse often controversial left-wing views.
A virulent critic of Israel, he denounced the two-state solution as fraudulent. Writing for a leftist political blog, Pulse, after a visit to Israel and the West Bank in 2009, he called for “the fall of this disgraceful apartheid system.” In 2010 he was aboard one of the ships in the flotilla that tried to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. In a confrontation with Israeli forces on one of the boats, nine people were killed. Mr. Mankell, who was on another vessel, was arrested and deported back to Sweden.
He is survived by his wife, Ms. Bergman, and a son, Jon.
Mr. Mankell chafed at his failure to reach a broader audience outside of Sweden for his many works besides the Wallander series. In all, he wrote more than 40 volumes of fiction and 40 plays.
But some critics suggested that, like other mystery writers seeking higher literary recognition, Mr. Mankell could not escape the stylistic limitations of the detective genre.
In a 2007 Times review of his World War I-era naval novel “Depths,” Lucy Ellmann asserted Mr. Mankell was “encumbered with all those irritating little habits mystery writers can develop: staccato sentences, paragraphs and chapters,” as well as “that old audience-grabber, plot for plot’s sake, in the form of a murder every now and then (even the cat gets killed).”
Mr. Mankell eventually tired of Wallander. He ended the detective’s career with the publication of “The Troubled Man” (2009), in which Wallander bows out of the police force because of Alzheimer’s disease. “I shall not miss Wallander,” Mr. Mankell told The Guardian in 2013.
But his readers and many reviewers did.
“Detective Chief Inspector Kurt Wallander has solved his last case,” Marilyn Stasio lamented in a 2011 Times review. “Making this news more bitter, the alcoholic, diabetic, antisocial and perpetually dour Swedish detective is at his gloomy best in ‘The Troubled Man.’ ”


  1. Then the "Wallander" books started to be published in German in the 1990s, I was an avid reader of them, and they were all brilliant. But I lost interest later on, because the main character was just too troubled, too much revolving around his own problems over and over and over again. I read other Mankell books that were equally touching, such as "Teabag", about an African woman trying to find her way into Sweden as an illegal immigrant. In the light of today's refugee crisis, that book acquires particular poignancy.
    My Mum and my sister saw Mr. Mankell twice; once at a reading in Stuttgart, and once at the airport in Nice, France, when they bumped into him as he was on his way to catch a plane to Hamburg.


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