Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Faceless Killers

 I have just finished  reading Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell, the first in the Kurt Wallander series.

 I am a latecomer to the series as this book was written 20 years ago. Mankell has a huge fan base from all over the world and in fact the Wallander novels have been translated into 45 languages and have sold over 30 million copies.
There have also been several screen adaptations of Wallander, both Swedish and British (with Kenneth Branagh in the British version.)

I don't normally read crime fiction as it doesn't generally appeal to me but I was tempted by this after having recently watched the excellent The Killing on BBC 4 and The Millennium Trilogy on DVD.
Scandinavia is somewhere I would love to visit and so anything set here is immediately more appealing to me. There seems to be a huge surge in interest in the Scandinavian crime fiction genre and I am not ashamed to admit I have jumped on to the bandwagon.

From the start of Faceless Killers,  it is obvious that Wallander is going to be a complex character. He is going through a lot of turmoil in his private life- the recent breakdown of his marriage, his father's ill health and a troubled relationship with his daughter.
He also has an alcohol problem,  lives off a diet of junk food and is a workaholic. His marriage breakdown has affected him deeply and in desperation he tries unsuccessfully to begin a relationship with the attractive and more importantly, married, acting public prosecutor Anette Brolin.

The main plot of the story is the brutal murder of an elderly farmer and his wife at an isolated farmhouse in the Swedish countryside. When the couple are discovered, the man is already dead but his wife is still alive and manages to utter the word 'foreign' before she dies.

This one word leads to the conclusion that the awful deed has been committed by an immigrant and there is a public backlash against a nearby refugee centre.
Wallander and his team of colleagues not only have to solve the murder, but also have to protect the refugees from attacks of a racist nature.

Manning's writing is fast paced and engrossing. He explains the investigation process in a logical precise manner and it is easy to follow what is happening. There are poignant scenes, such as the one where Wallander's senile father thinks he is leaving home to travel to Italy to paint, dressed in a big hat and pyjamas.
Manning handles this scene beautifully, showing a softer caring side to Wallander.

I was very interested to listen to Henning Mankell talk about this book on the World Book Club broadcast in July of this year. In the interview, he says that he didn't create Kurt Wallander and then write stories around the character but rather that the story came first and that he felt he needed a policeman in his story.

The interview is well worth a listen, whether you are a Henning Mankell fan or like me, totally new to his work. He comes across as a genuinely very nice man with a superb sense of humour and total humility.
I shall certainly be reading more of his novels, both the Wallander series and his other general fiction.

I would rate this book as 8 out of 10. The storyline is a good one and keeps you guessing until the end although it does finish a little abruptly. Worth a read.

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