review · Sweden · Translated

Sidetracked by Henning Mankell

Sidetracked by Henning Mankell, translated by Steven T. Murray

Vintage, 2008

Kurt Wallander book 6 (if you count the prequel stories in The Pyramid)

Source: personal copy (not sure if I bought or swapped this used copy)

After going on a Wallander bender sometime in 2011, it’s been over a year since I’ve read any more Mankell.  In my quest to balance out new-to-me-authors with old favorites, I got back to the Wallander series, and this was a very good outing.

The novel begins with Wallander witnessing a young woman setting herself on fire in front of him in a farmer’s field in early summer, and soon thereafter a former justice minister is found murdered by an ax and scalped.  It’s a gruesome set of incidents in the fine summer weather, and the murders continue.

I’m usually not one for serial killer books, and I’m usually not one for books that spend time in the killer’s head (I’ve read and seen it too many times since Silence of the Lambs), but Mankell doesn’t spend too much time in the killer’s head for it to become annoying to me.  Mankell, as usual, spends lots of time on the details of the investigation and with Wallander and his team.  Also, he gives Wallander tough family issues to deal with with his daughter and his father, which also balances out the gruesomeness of the crimes in this book.

The Wallander series overall can be tough to read because a) Wallander identifies with the murder victims in some way or another, which is wrenching, and b) Wallander is seriously flummoxed by the seriousness and horribleness of the crimes committed in Ystad, which is far from a big city, a viciousness that he’s sees more and more the longer he is a policeman.  What makes the series so good is that Mankell doesn’t flinch from indicting the Swedish society that has failed so many, and he doesn’t flinch from allowing Wallander to have real difficulties coping with his life as a policeman.  It also helps that Wallander’s rants about Sweden’s obsession with the 1994 World Cup are amusing asides.

Overall, I feel like I’ve been through the wringer emotionally at the end of a Wallander novel, and this book is no exception.  Thankfully, Wallander escapes for some respite at the conclusion of the grueling investigation, and I think I’ll give Mankell a break and read some other books for awhile.

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3 thoughts on “Sidetracked by Henning Mankell

  1. Rebecca – I am so glad you enjoyed this one. Isn’t Wallander a fabulous character? I think one of the things I like best about him is that he’s human. He sees the human side of crime. It’s sad for him in the sense that he does as you say sympathise with criminals at times. But that aspect of his personality is what keeps him human and not a machine. I also like the way Mankell tells stories. They’re not exactly joyfully told, but they are compelling.

    1. There are some bits of joy scattered throughout the books, I agree, but overall I feel as worn out as Wallander by the time I finish the book or he finishes a case. He’s such an interesting character.

  2. This is such a sad book and I enjoyed the Kenneth Branagh adaptation too. Wallander is such an amazing character and I’m so glad I discovered him through my local library.

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