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4.5 out of 5 stars
One Step Behind: A Kurt Wallander Mystery (7)
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47 of 50 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
On Midsummer night (a big celebration in Sweden) 3 young adults are shot to death in cold blood in a nature reserve in South Sweden. The killer is extremely careful: he removes all traces, including the bodies, and makes the parents belief that their children have gone on an extended summer holiday to Europe. But something is not right and this feeling becomes very urgent when one of Inspector Kurt Wallander's colleagues is found in his apartment with his face blown to pieces. Time for Wallander and his team to start an investigation for a killer that always seems to be one step ahead of the team. Four more people die before the team has an idea who the killer might be, and even when the investigation turns into a manhunt, they need all their considerable skills to bring this case to a good end. And in all this mess Wallander also finds out that he is a diabetic and has to change his lifestyle: not an easy option when you are trying to catch one of the most gruesome serial killers that Sweden has ever seen...

Once you are reading this book you cannot stop. The book seems to be slow-paced, but that is only at the surface, below that there are numerous developments that keep the reader interested. A real page turner.
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64 of 70 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is the best in Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander series to date. While five of his mysteries have been translated, it is not necessary to read them in order. But anyone who begins with "One Step Behind" will surely want to double back to the previous four volumes. (Although only a real die-hard fan will enjoy "The White Lioness.")
Mankell is the best mystery writer writing today. Here's why:
1. The mystery itself is riveting, and the book revolves around that plot. We solve the crime with the team at the Ystad police station. There are no weird or eccentrically-contrived characters as in so many mysteries today. The writing is clean and controlled.
2. Every minor character, every cameo, is a perfect little portrait. There are no "flat" characters.
3. This is not the Sweden of clogs and girls with long blonde braids. This is a society in disintegration where the criminal element threatens to take over. Wallander's comments on the state of Swedish society today are right on target.
4. In sum, we care about Wallander and the characters who revolve around him in the police station and elsewhere. These people are real. They are our neighbors and friends-- people we know in the U.S. or wherever we live.
For a suspenseful mystery, no one is writing this well today. I am a 40-something woman. Today my friend, an 80-something man, said to me: I can never thank you enough for recommending "One Step Behind." I can't put it down!
That says it all.
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44 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is my fourth Kurt Wallender mystery. I am now reading my fifth and last of Mankell's translated works: White Lioness. The story is full of twists and turns as you would normally expect of a well crafted mystery novel. What comes as a surprise in this as well as the other of Mankell's Wallender mysteries is the character development of Mankell's chief protagonist: Kurt Wallender. It is a real treat to read an effective combination of police procedural and character development. Mankell pays attention not only to the Wallender character but he also attends to the development of the other characters who appear in the books. In this book, there is a believable and particularly evil villain who challenges your imagination. The only part of the book that I did not like, had to do with the introduction of a new character, the prosecuting attorney, who distracts from the intent of the story. Mankell also captures the wonderful sensitivity of Sweden and often highlights those things about Swedish people which make them so people-centered. I recommend this book to you and look forward to the translation of more of them.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2010
Format: Paperback
I confess that I hadn't read any of Henning Mankell's books; I bought this one after seeing several Kurt Wallander mysteries on television. I am happy to report that the books (at least, this one) are even better than the television shows. This is a gripping mystery that deals with a serial killer. What I liked most here wasn't really the plot, though, but rather Mankell's unique style of writing. The best way I can think of to describe it is that he is very gentle with his characters. He seems to see them from a vantage of great compassion, and he portrays their struggles--with their work, their health, their relationships, and their loneliness, which is a pervasive and recurring theme in the book--with a careful kindness. The crime gets solved, of course, but Mankell is more realistic than most writers concerning the very real damage people would suffer in such a scenario. His protagonist is an everyman, not a superhero. The book is long at 440 pages and unfolds at a stately pace, yet it seldom drags. Gore is kept to a minimum for the subject matter. If you like police stories with strong character portrayals, you'll like this.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
This book was published in 1997 in Sweden as Steget Efter. It was the seventh book published in the series in Sweden, although according to the internal chronology of the series it is actually the eighth. It is Mankell's fifth book to appear in an English translation. Confused yet? Me too.

I have no idea why they are not translating and publishing the books in order, but I guess that I am glad that they are publishing them at all. Mankell is a wonderful writer, something that comes through even in translation. It is a real treat to be able to read these books.

I am going to go out on a limb for a moment and argue that the best detective novels are actually an examination of a changing society (or its effect on an individual). This was true of the Golden Age and I believe that it is true of the better detective writers working today. I was curious how Mankell would handle that most American of criminals, the serial killer. Too often, contemporary serial killer novels are not an exploration of anything except titillation, sadism, and gore.

I need not have bothered to worry. The serial killer, in Wallander's world, is the intrusion of a very different kind of crime in the still-innocent Swedish landscape. The detectives are confronted with the spectre of senselessness and the uselessness of some of their traditional notions of crime and detection.

One Step Behind is not my favorite Mankell, to be honest. However, it might well be a good introduction to unfamiliar American readers as the theme is more familiar than in some of the other books which have a focus on more post-colonial issues.

You are probably guessing that this book is probably not for you if you are more of a fan of Karin Slaughter or Val McDermid shock and horror. It is also absolutely not a cozy or a book where humor is the main point. There are moments of laughter, to be sure, but they are bitter ones.

Think of this as a more literary detective fiction novel. It is likely to appeal to non-typical mystery fans. If you like Simenon, Freeling or Per Wahloo then Mankell is most likely a must-read. It should also appeal to fans of the Golden Age writers like Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy L. Sayers.

Enjoy!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 9, 2006
Format: Paperback
I have just finished the Wallander series by Mankell and this is the story that continues to haunt me.You either like this grim,graphic type of police procedural or you don't. I discovered the Swedish writing couple of Maj Schowall and Per Wahloo in the 1970's and have missed the unique atmosphere and the social awareness they brought to their "detective" stories. Mankell captures much of their style, updating it to the 1990's, introducing then unknown drugs and political changes as well as social currents.

Perfect series for a cold,wet Spring.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover
My Swedish roommate had an English copy of this book, and lent it to me, saying that Mankell was quite a well-known and popular author in Sweden. In any case, since I had absolutely no preconceptions or expectations of the book, I can't say that it particularly disappointed me. However, because of the psychopath-killer, I can't avoid comparing it to Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal by Thomas Harris, especially the way that Mankell describes his psychopath's thoughts and activities. In that sense, One Step Behind certainly pales in comparison; but maybe it's not supposed to be a psychological thriller!!!
I did like the way that Mankell seems to address his characters with brutal honesty - no one is perfect, everyone is fallible, and the frustration palpable. The cast of characters will not fail to entertain or frighten, whether you look to Sture Bjorklund, who researches the relationships between monsters and people, to the mysterious "Louise" (who turns out to be a drag queen) to Wallander himself. One of the reviews put out by the industry said that the gloomy Scandinavian setting of the Wallander series fails to attracts readers in the US, but I think that the setting is part of the novel's appeal. In terms of the murders, corruption, and overwork, it is especially interesting to consider Mankell's work as a critique of Swedish society.
Some threads are never adequately finished off, like the Divine Movers cult to which the three initial murder victims are said to have belonged, or Erika, a possible and tangential love interest for Wallander. As a whole, however, this mystery will keep you reading. I gave it 4 stars because this genre is one that I hardly ever read (therefore I'm not familiar with what makes a really good or really bad detective novel - but I enjoyed this one, although I probably wouldn't re-read it). I don't feel that I should judge One Step Behind against the Western canon.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
I picked this book up in a Moral, Welfare and Recreation facility somewhere in Afghanistan because I had viewed the PBS Mystery series starring Kenneth Branagh and enjoyed it immensely.

Having already seen the episode based on this book it wasn't very much of a whodunnit for me. (I'll have to make a point in the future to try and select Wallanders that haven't been adapted for TV.)

The book was pretty good. It tends to focus on Wallander and his team as they investigate a series of horrific murders, including one of their colleagues, in the small Swedish town of Ystad. What I did find a bit lacking was the lack of the killer's perspective. The best murder mystery thrillers (The First Deadly Sin by Lawrence Sanders or Red Dragon or The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris, for example) all tend to give us deep insight into the killer's mind and motive. 'One Step Behind' had a little of that, but not nearly enough in my mind. The rest of the story is a fast read of good detective fiction based largely on leg work and deduction. There's very little 'CSI' stuff and I was okay with that.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2006
Format: Paperback
Do you enjoy detectives who are physically and psychologically at the end of their tether? Detectives who are unhealthy, sleep too little, drink too much coffee, obsess about their lost and messed up relationships, are physically miserable no matter what season it is? Detectives whose personality matches the geography and atmosphere of Sweden? If so you will get hooked on Henning Mankell's detective novels as I have. I have now read every one that's been translated into English and am tempted to learn Swedish to get into the two that thus far haven't been translated. I don't know why I like them. I can't explain it to anyone except to say it's a Scandinavian thing. Tom Christenson
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Oh, man. I just couldn't NOT review this. This author must be one of the most talented mystery writers on the planet and so far, I like this book the best. You're not likely to have any fingernails left after reading this one about a serial killer. Mankell mixes real clues with red herrings so effectively throughout the story that you will never guess who it is until he tells you. The story starts from the killer's point of view, so you know it is a man. But why does he kill these people? Does he know them or have any connection to them? Are these thrill kills? Is he a psychopath or a nutcase? Interspersed with the police investigation are scenes showing the workings of the killer's mind. You get good and scared and frustrated as do Wallander and his colleagues. I purposely havent read the ending yet so there's no way I can give it away. I'm always so impressed with the way the department works as a team and around the clock when they have to. If this happens in real life we don't appreciate the efforts as much as we should. In this book, also at the beginning, Wallander contracts diabetes. The author must have it to describe it so realistically. I have it too, and have been through all these scary symptoms and the story is really accurate on this point. I like the other characters Wallander works with, I'd like to know more about Linda, his daughter, and Lisa, his boss. They are all realistic people with real problems. Henning Mankell is just a superb writer and I'm so glad I have two more of his books here to read.
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