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158 of 160 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Strong Debut Novel--Great New Mystery Series!
Now this was a find. Recently, I was reading book reviews in either _Booklist_ or _Library Journal_ and came across a rave for the latest Mankell translation, _One Step Behind_. When my next opportunity to order a few books came around, I put several Mankell titles on the list and _Faceless Killers_ is the first in his Kurt Wallander series. Mankell is a Swedish author...
Published on March 18, 2002 by Craig Larson

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52 of 56 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining procedural let down by poor translation
Henning Mankell was a new writer to me, but having seen comparisons of his genre fiction with that of Ian Rankin I tried this novel.
This is the first in Mankell's Inspector Wallander series. Set in rural Sweden it is a police procedural. The opening chapters of the novel are gripping. It begins with a vicious murder to which Wallander is called. There are few...
Published on October 9, 2000 by scottish_lawyer


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158 of 160 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Strong Debut Novel--Great New Mystery Series!, March 18, 2002
By 
Craig Larson (Maple Grove, MN USA) - See all my reviews
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Now this was a find. Recently, I was reading book reviews in either _Booklist_ or _Library Journal_ and came across a rave for the latest Mankell translation, _One Step Behind_. When my next opportunity to order a few books came around, I put several Mankell titles on the list and _Faceless Killers_ is the first in his Kurt Wallander series. Mankell is a Swedish author and his books are translations and have been hailed as the first series to truly live up to the standards set by authors Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo and their Martin Beck mysteries. I can't comment on that, never having read a Martin Beck, but I sure enjoyed this book.

As the story opens, an elderly farmer discovers that his neighbors, also elderly, have been attacked. The husband has been gruesomely tortured and killed and his wife left for dead. Before she dies in the hospital, her last word is "foreign." With anti-immigrant sentiment running high already, the last thing the police need is for this to slip out to the media, but someone in the department leaks the information and suddenly refugee camps in the area are being firebombed. When a Somali refugee is killed, seemingly at random, Wallander and his men have two difficult cases to untangle.

This was a very strong mystery, with a great central character and careful attention to settings. Wallander is cut from the same cloth as John Rebus and Alan Banks. He's struggling with loneliness after his wife has unexpectedly left him and his close ties with his daughter have been severed. He has to deal with an aging, possibly senile, father and his attraction to the new female district attorney who is filling in on an interim basis, and who happens to be married. Plus, he's drinking too much and putting on weight due to a steady diet of pizza and fast food.

Wallander is a compelling character who spends much of his time brooding about the state of the world and the state of his society and, interestingly, he seems to have some sympathy for the anti-immigrant mentality. He's concerned that just about anyone can come to the country and request asylum, even crooks and shady characters. And, the way the system is painted in the book, with officials unsure of where to locate specific refugees, etc., we can see how the task of the police is made much more difficult than it need be. But tracking down the murderer of the Somali refugee is his job and he does it, even when a former policeman seems to have some connection to the crime.

A very interesting mystery and one that held my attention throughout. Even though the murders which open the book seem to be impossible to solve, Wallander will not let them go. He sticks to the investigation, which drags on for quite a long time, and finally sees it through. I will definitely be reading more books in this series. Highly recommended.
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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid Swedish Series Debut, April 16, 2005
This review is from: Faceless Killers: The First Kurt Wallander Mystery (Paperback)
Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo invented the modern Swedish police procedural with their ten-book Martin Beck series, which ended in the late 1970s. Mankell picks up where they left off, introducing a new weary policeman with this first in the Kurt Wallender series, which was originally published in 1991. Just as the Martin Beck series was a lens for the authors' liberal view of a changing Swedish society, Mankell uses the crime novel as a way of addressing the dilemmas of modern Sweden. In this first book, an elderly couple in the southern coastal town of Ystad are brutally tortured and murdered, and the only clue is the word "foreigners." As there are a number of refugee camps in the nearby countryside, the issue of immigration and asylum becomes central to the story.

With the chief out of town, Wallender spearheads the investigation into the apparently motiveless crime, while at the same time struggling to cope with his disintegrating personal life. His wife has just left him, his teenage daughter is estranged from him, and his aging father gives new meaning to the word cantankerous. It doesn't help that Wallender eats junk food for meals and drinks himself to sleep. Soon a firebombing of a refugee camp increases the pressure for a quick solution, and then a Somali is shotgunned to death, making for even more problems. Despite the best efforts of Wallender's team, they just can't seem to get anywhere as the months drag on. The breakthrough that leads to the solution seems to come out of nowhere, but it works nonetheless.

The story is written in prose that can perhaps best be described as methodical, and when combined with the bleak weather, it ably captures the reserved nature of Scandinavia. The immigration issue is handled fairly well and raises difficult questions. Wallender, probably like most of his countrymen, finds himself troubled by the situation and straddling the fence in many ways. Alas, other than Wallender, who himself is a borderline parody of a middle-aged alcoholic mess of a cop, the characters aren't developed very much. One gets the sense that some, such as his father, daughter, and the new prosecutor will be developed in the future, but his colleagues all blend together in a faceless mass. This is a disappointment, for as sympathetic a character as Wallender is, he can't really carry the book on his own. Hopefully future installments will see a more well-rounded cast of supporting characters. Still, the procedural aspect is very good and the overall atmosphere will be interesting to those who like crime novels from foreign climes.

Note: The book was made into a 3 1/2 hour mini-series for Swedish television in 1994 which is apparently unavailable in English.
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52 of 56 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining procedural let down by poor translation, October 9, 2000
Henning Mankell was a new writer to me, but having seen comparisons of his genre fiction with that of Ian Rankin I tried this novel.
This is the first in Mankell's Inspector Wallander series. Set in rural Sweden it is a police procedural. The opening chapters of the novel are gripping. It begins with a vicious murder to which Wallander is called. There are few clues, other than the last word of the second murder victim, "Foreigners". When news of this leaks out Wallander is drawn into a series of racially motivated incidents, and investigations around camps holding asylum seekers.
The tension is built up well in the first half of the novel, and the investigation of the murder, and the racial incidents, maintains high interest. The second half of the novel is more slackly paced, the denouement slightly disappointing.
Wallander is a fascinating character, and while the novel is third person narrative, so much is written from Wallander's perspective that the novel might as well be in the first person. Wallander is not the most likeable of characters. He has a strained relationship with his father and daughter, has recently separated, and falls into a number of stereotypes as the "loner" cop. Wallander's flaws, his racism (his observations on asylum seekers, for example), and his misogyny, for example, create a rounded well-drawn character. You may not like Wallander but so crafted is the character that his motivation is comprehensible.
However, the depth given to Wallander means that supporting characters suffer. Wallander's father - never satisfied, slightly ill-tempered, and suffering from a serious illness - has potential to be an interesting character, but seems instead to act as a checkbox to note Wallander's famly troubles. Others have a poorer fate. The prosecutor (and putative lust interest) Ms Brolin is one character that seems particularly flat. So ill-drawn are some of the characters that one wonders if a first person narrative may suit Mankell more, allowing Wallander the depth, and giving the excuse of Wallander's perception of others to justify their poorer treatment.
With this flaw, Wallander's work reminds me more of RD Wingfield's Frost series than Rankin's Rebus - where incidental characters tend to be fleshed out.
Most serious flaw in the novel, though, is the translation. Mankell's prose is rendered in a stilted manner, with a number of glaring grammatical problems. Mankell seems ill-served by a tin-eared translation.
This was an enjoyable novel, that started very well, but tailed off towards its conclusion. Wallander is a character I would like to see more of, and I intend to read other books of Mankell's. The series does hold much promise. But if you're looking for the new Ian Rankin try elsewhere (e.g. Denise Mina).
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fast paced murder mystery with Swedish setting, June 1, 2006
By 
moose (New Jersey) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Faceless Killers: The First Kurt Wallander Mystery (Paperback)
I am a Swede/American and recently read this book in Swedish "Mördare utan Ansikte". The book was first published in 1991, I believe. I was too young to have read it then but my father has the entire series. I almost always read English books because they are more readily available but when I couldn't find anything to read at my local library I turned to my father's extensive collection of Swedish books and began reading the first installment in the Kurt Wallander series.

Ah, how accurately the book portrays Sweden with the little in the middle of nowhere towns. There are so few police in Sweden, especially during the summer, that it is an exciting treat for little kids to see a police car.

I don't normally read murder mysteries and have little to compare it to, but I enjoyed the book and recommend it. Flawed characters are more interesting than perfect, predictable ones but I couldn't help but squirm as I read about Kurt Wallander falling apart after his divorce and making a fool out of himself trying to snag a married woman. This was very true to life, no contrived little romance, but featured a depressed policeman who turns increasingly to alcohol as he misses his estranged wife and daughter.

I notice that I've written more about the setting than the actual plot. But I assume that the plot is typical for a murder mystery. But if you have been to rural Sweden or are interested in it than this will be a good read for you as it accurately captures the feel of being there. Sweden loves anyone who gains recognition for Sweden and draws attention to it so Henning Mankell is pretty huge there and Abba is still constantly on the radio. Winning an olymic gold medal in curling was headline news for a long time (until the gold in hockey). Henning Mankell's sucess is exciting for the Swedish nation of 9 million. If you are a fan of mysteries, then spice it up a little by reading this series that has an "exotic" setting.

Hmm.. I'm a bit dubious as to the quality of this review, a bit too much rambling perhaps.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Warm Novel from a Cold Country, December 7, 2005
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This review is from: Faceless Killers: The First Kurt Wallander Mystery (Paperback)
Mr. Mankell's first novel to be published in English is a great portent of what will follow afterward. Having read two others out of chronological order, I know what is to come. I've decided that is not a bad way to read a mystery writer.

This writer does two things so very well. First, he lets a police officer solve the crime instead of your favorite hair dresser, your local librarian, your garbage collector or-- and there seems to be a plethora of these-- a college English professor. Secondly he makes the character of Kurt Wallander so complex and human that we root for him and care about him deeply. His wife has just left him and will not return. He has a bumpy relationship with both his daughter who as a teenaager attempted suicide and his aging father. A colleague is dying. He drinks too much, doesn't eat healthy. The world is changing and he has difficulty changing with it. He understands loneliness. And he listens to opera-- Jussi Bjorling, Maria Callas. How can you not like him?

The crime here is brutal and a difficult one to solve. An elderly husband and wife out in the Swedish countryside are savagely murdered on a cold winter night. "To grow old is to live in fear. The dread of something menacing that you felt when you were a child returns when you get old." There are precious few clues and no apparent motive.

As always Mankell writes about social issues. This time it is the plight of the refugees pouring across Sweden's borders. Sound familiar to U. S. readers?

Henning Mankell is one of our best crime writers. His works are often much better written than so-called literary novels.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Its Hard To Put Down, June 29, 2007
By 
Y. Lee (Charlottesville, VA) - See all my reviews
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It's hard to solve the mystery. But, it's even harder to put the book down...

Imagine waking up during the middle of the night. You're awakened by a bad dream that tells you something is terribly wrong, awfully strange. You check your house and everything appears to be normal. You notice something peculiar about your neighbor's house- the same neighbor who is your best friend you share tea with every day. Once you enter the house, you wish you never entered. That's exactly what happened to one elderly Swedish farmer in Henning Mankell's Faceless Killers.

He discovers the scene referred to as a "slaughterhouse." His best friend Johannes Lovgren is dead and Lovgren's wife Maria is left to die. She is found tied to a chair with a noose around her neck.

It's a double murder mystery that is impossible to solve. There is no evident motive. Both Maria and Johannes are said to have no enemies and not much money. But, the victim has been brutally tortured and killed, while he wife has been left to die. The crime seems way too personal and gruesome to have been a random robbery.

When Maria eventually dies in the hospital after being in a coma, she gives detectives one clue with her last dying breath. "Foreign." Mankell's Faceless Killers addresses political and national issues that extend far beyond a murder mystery of country couple. In a country full of foreigners, Maria's clue doesn't help much. Mankell takes a murder from the domestic space to a national "international" realm. In a country with increasing anti-immigrant sentiment and crimes by "foreigners," the Lovgren murders touch a sensitive issue that parallels political problems in Sweden.

The detective called to scene is Kurt Wallander, a man with just as many personal troubles to solve. Although Wallander is a miserable man with horrible relationships, he gains the reader's sympathy and oftentimes empathy. Faceless Killers is not just a detective fiction with a murder to solve. It is an interactive work. Wallander takes the reader inside the workings of his mind and into his world of crime-solving as he tries to balance bumpy relationships with his father, ex-wife, and daughter.

Reading Faceless Killers, the reader is more inclined to learn what happens to Wallander than the answer to the murder mystery. Mankell's Wallander comes to life. He undergoes not only relationship problems, but also the struggles of everyday men. Wallander's journey through aging and weight-gain is equality a roller coaster as solving the murder. Mankell takes the reader into the mind of a police detective. Through first person narrative and self-reflexivity, Wallander directly tells his readers how he is thinking. The minds and workings of a detective and a middle aged troubled man are puzzling as investigating the crime.

Going back to the action-packed murder plot, the investigation process takes a deep turn when Maria's brother comes forth with secret information no one knew. The truth of Johannes' double life comes forth. It is revealed that Johannes was not the faithful husband and modest neighbor everyone thought he was. His secret "other" life brings light to valuable clues that further Wallander's investigation of the murder.

Unlike Sherlock Holmes who is a know-it-all detective with surprising conclusions, Wallander lets the reader join in on the investigation process. The reader is included in details and each piece of the puzzle. The puzzle is the answer to who committed the horrendous crime and the answer to Wallander's quest for a better life.

Faceless Killers is a must read for those curious minds who want more than a simple murder mystery. Mankell provides a smooth effortless reading that provokes the intellect (solving the crime) and emotion (empathizing with Wallander).
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, June 13, 2011
By 
M. Miller (Portland, Oregon) - See all my reviews
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What can I say? I'm a big fan of mysteries but this one just left me empty. The prose is stilted and lifeless (could it be the translation?) and the characters are poorly developed. I suppose the message Mankell is trying for is that most cases are solved by methodical, plodding work. This tries to be a police procedural, but it is sloppy and uninteresting at best. Plodding for sure.

Inspector Wallander, the main character, is a lonely, unhappy soul whose marriage has unraveled. He is moody but committed to his job, and, we are led to believe, very good at it. But the writing is so bad it is hard to feel affection or even much interest in most of the characters. There's a scene where Wallander meets his ex at a restaurant. He's nervous and arrives slightly drunk. The dialogue that follows is painfully idiotic, not at all believable. He loves her and wants them to try again. She says it's over. No further discussion, no explanation, no attempt to flesh out the character of the ex, help the reader understand the issues she had in the relationship. Bizarre. Much of the book is like this, similar to an outline without the flesh of the story.

In one paragraph we'll learn that the wind has stopped blowing. Two paragraphs later (10 minutes along in time), the wind is blowing and it is bitterly cold. There are several examples of this, which you would think an editor would have caught. Apparently the author is trying to convey something to the reader when he observes that the wind is blowing or not blowing. What that might be is anybody's guess.

Many times in the book, as the procedural progresses, Mankell will write: "nothing happened that day," then proceed to tell us what happened. Sloppy.

Wallander is attracted to a female prosecutor (who is filling in temporarily for a friend of Wallander's). She is married with kids, but living away from her family while on this assignment. He fantasizes about her. They meet for drinks late one night at her apartment. He makes a clumsy overture and then gets a little rough with her. He apologizes and goes home, humiliated. But the reader is told this in the most cursory way. We hardly know what she looks like, we know almost nothing about her. Why would she be attracted to this slightly seedy, slightly overweight inspector? Just as Wallander comes off as clumsy, so does Mankell. Inexplicably, later in the story they go to an opera and we are told matter of factly that they do sleep together. But who cares? We don't have a reason to be interested in her and their relationship is not believable.

Worse yet is the relationship with Wallander and his father, an aged painter who makes his living painting the same two paintings over and over. He lives an isolated life out in the country. It's clear dementia has crept up on the old man. The inspector visits him often, but they don't get along -- never have -- and the visits involve almost no conversation. We don't know why the man is like he is and we don't know why they don't get along. It is a story thread full of promise but poorly executed.

I'm a fan of Jo Nesbo, Sjowall and Wahloo, and Van de Wetering, all northern European mystery writers who can write circles around Mankell.

Bottom line: I won't be reading another Inspector Wallander mystery.

Mike
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scandinavian crime story, very good start, May 19, 2006
This review is from: Faceless Killers: The First Kurt Wallander Mystery (Paperback)
The first novel from Mankell's series featuring Kurt Wallander is an excellent entertainment for fans of detective stories. Set in Skane, the Southern region of Sweden (there is a map in the book, which is very helpful in following Wallander's travels), the novel starts with a brutal murder of elderly farmer couple. There are some faults to the plot (ending...), but the background, Swedish way of life, political and social issues are tackled brilliantly, and Wallander is a masterful character, balancing on the verge of depression, vulnerable and weak, and at the same time quite brilliant and charming (in other words, just human). His personal problems (his wife left him, he has to deal with his father difficult aging, he is estranged from his daughter and sister, and additionally drinks and eats too much) are maybe even more interesting than the solution to the crime... The author also succeeded in creating the atmosphere of heavy sadness, setting the plot in the snowless, rainy winter.

It is a very good introduction to the Scandinavian mystery novels, I am very glad, that this and other Mankell novels, as well as other Swedish representatives of the genre, are translated into English. It would be great to get the translations of the Finnish mysteries by Leena Lehtolainen with detective Maria Kallio, which are also very Nordic and would be a treat for people who like Mankell!
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clever plot and well-developed characters, January 29, 2003
By 
Keith Nichols (Dallas, TX United States) - See all my reviews
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If you like police procedurals with real people instead of a plot with cardboard characters, Henning Mankell is your guy. His detective Kurt Wallander is a likeable, middle-aged fellow with various personal and family problems, plus having to unravel a really nasty murder. It takes the entire book to to do, and I was totally surprised at how the thing was resolved. Along the way, the story conveys something of the feel and spirit of Sweden, or at least the author's version of it. A point that amused me, as an American accustomed to cops who shoot first and think about it later, is the Swedes' awkwardness when having to find their pistols and go after a nasty character. I've read three of the Wallander books, and all are engrossing throughout. The author composes in Swedish, but the translations are uniformly good, at least as far as this non-Swede can tell.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Swedish Rebus?, June 6, 2000
I read in a Times review that Wallander bore similarities to Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus. Well, having read just this one Wallander novel I can say that they both drink rather a lot, they both seem to find themselves getting involved in the action and wandering around with an increasing number of cuts and bruises. Broader comparisons between Mankell and Rankin can also be made. They are both gritty writers of crime fiction. This is a far cry from murdered vicars in quaint villages. Having never read a book set in Sweden before I was able to learn something of the climate, the landscape, and the 'asylum-seekers situation'. In other words, Mankell sets the scene well just as Rankin builds an incredible portrait/landscape of Edinburgh. There is a sober realism about Mankell's writing. The dialogue has no frills but is not empty of humour. Wallander's character is well-developed although at this stage many of the other detectives do seem to merge into one. Just like Inspector Rebus, he is clearly useless at relationships. His wife has recently left him, his daughter survived a suicide attempt and has now run away. He makes a groping lunge at a married lawyer during the course of this book and comes off with a stinging cheek. Yet, just like Rebus, we sympathize with him. We admire his determination to solve the horrific case of a murdered, tortured elderly couple in a small village. At this point though my positive comparison with the Rebus novels ends. The plot of Faceless Killers is much more simplistic than Rankin's novels. Rankins is able to interweave a myriad of storylines and events. 'Faceless Killers' has two or three plotlines at most. Rankin usually offers us the chance to see a variety of perspectives other than that of Rebus. Mankell sticks to Wallander almost the whole time, with the exception of the opening scene. Strangest to me was the way in which the first three-quarters of the book is held down tightly to the space of only a few days and then suddenly months pass by with the crime unsolved. I won't go into this further for fear of spoiling the story but the ending is disappointing after maintaining the tension so well earlier on. I will probably give Mankell a second chance and read the next one in the series. It is a well-written book but I personally do not read that much crime fiction so am very demanding on what I do read in this genre. After Ian Rankin it is hard to be satisfied. However, if you are a voracious reader of crime stories this should definitely be given a reading.
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Faceless Killers: The First Kurt Wallander Mystery
Faceless Killers: The First Kurt Wallander Mystery by Henning Mankell (Paperback - January 14, 2003)
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