The police-prodedural genre—in which a cop-hero marches through long days of investigative drudgery, all the while contending with the personal fallout from a professional life marked by too much work and too little reward—well suits the wintry outlook that the Swedish people are known for (not least by themselves). This novel, set in the Baltic-chilled region along the southern coast of Sweden, exploits that close kinship between narrative style and national temper. It’s the first of what has become a long and popular series of books that feature Inspector Kurt Wallander as their put-upon protagonist. Here, along with calling upon Wallander to make sense of the shockingly violent murder of an old farmer couple, Mankell immerses him in a flow of worries that includes a wife bent on divorce, an estranged daughter, and a selfish, senile father. A further layer of angst, derived from the view that immigration and the nativist response to it are disfiguring Swedish society, covers these grim proceedings like a sheet of thin, brittle ice. A love of opera and a submerged crackle of erotic longing humanize Wallander, and also pump some life into his saga, but they don’t fundamentally alter Mankell’s depiction of crime-fighting as a thoroughly unromantic affair, random is its course and devoid of dramatically satisfying contours. The murder gets solved, realistically but without surprise or panache. For Wallander and his troubled country, meanwhile, life just goes on: Sadly and stubbornly, it goes on.
HENNING MANKELL. Faceless Killers (1991).