Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Review - Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

I read a couple of Henning Mankell’s Wallander novels a year or so ago, and I resolved at the time to get hold of a copy of the first in the series. I forgot, until the recent TV series starring Kenneth Branagh. As it happened, two of the three novels they dramatised – Sidetracked and Firewall – were the two I had read. I really enjoyed the TV series, so I decided to buy a copy of Faceless Killers. There was none to be had. Then, just before Christmas, Vintage reissued their flawed version, repackaged and repriced.

The gist of the story, taken from the blurb, is as follows:

One frozen January morning at 5 am, Inspector Wallander responds to what he believes is a routine call out. When he reaches the isolated farmhouse he discovers a bloodbath. An old man has been tortured and beaten to death, his wife lies barely alive beside his shattered body, both victims of a violence beyond reason. The woman supplies Wallander with his only clue: the perpetrators may have been foreign. When this is leaked to the press, it unleashes racial hatred. Kurt Wallander is a senior police officer. His life is a shambles. His wife has left him, his daughter barely refuses to speak to him, and even his ageing father barely tolerates him. He works tirelessly, eats badly, and drinks his nights away in a lonely, neglected flat. But now, with winter tightening and his activities being monitored by a tough-minded district attorney, Wallander must forget his troubles and throw himself into a battle against time and against mounting xenophobia.
I really enjoyed this book, although I found I was less interested in the crimes as I was in the relationships Wallander tried to repair, attempted to form and usually messed up along the way. I liked the view of Sweden it portrayed, warts and all, and sometimes I liked the way Mankell examined some of the social issues (but not always – the debate on immigration he has with a woman he should be seducing didn’t quite ring true, for instance). Although this first outing for Wallander is never as good as his later appearances, it is still better than most police procedurals and definitely worth a read.

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