Thursday, June 04, 2009

Swedish Detective Wallander: One Step Behind

(reflection on ONE STEP BEHIND by Henning Mankell, translated from Swedish by Ebba Segerberg)

Reading for the first time from this highly - acclaimed series, I'm struck by the extent to which the detective novelist's job is simply stringing the reader along. I could be irritated by that, or I could enjoy the experience: I haven't decided which reaction I'm feeling.

There is some admiration of how he does tease us. We know in the first chapter everything we'll ever know about the personality and motivation of the murderer; only his name is withheld. He shoots three young adults while they indulge in a midsummer night's dress - up fantasy. While Detective Kurt Wallander and his team look into the disappearance of those three young adults, we wonder, when will Wallander figure out what we already know? Later, when we know where the murderer is lurking, and what he is planning, then there's page - turning suspense. That's a good thing, and it kept me up reading past midnight.

Meanwhile, however, we do have irritating iterations of the phrase, "something was not right," as Wallander can never seem to put his finger on the source of his intuitions. If he did, gosh, the novel would be over in two chapters. Even the detective's mid - life health crisis is drawn out so long that it wears thin: okay, Wallander, you have diabetes. So?

The Martin Cruz Smith books set in Russia, and Walter Mosley's books set in the same streets as Raymond Chandler's LA give us a strong sense of alien, beautiful, intriguing settings. Sweden seems to be a place where everything is within an hour's drive, and where two murders in a summer is enough to get the national news media up in arms about lawlessness. I'm willing to revisit Mankell's Sweden, but it made a bland first impression.

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