I've enjoyed the Kurt Wallander series of books for many years, and have read as Kurt went from a young patrolman to, now, a 60 year old man with various illnesses. Being older than that myself, I can sympathize with him over his debilitations, and his fear of looming death. These things are all part of this excellent book.
The plot concerns the future in-laws of his daughter Linda, who both disappear, apparently without any particular reason. Even though the disappearances are not within his police jurisdiction, because of the family ties Kurt gets involved in trying to find them, and what happened and why. The past history of Sweden and the Cold War plays an important role in the plot, one of the more intriguing plots Mr. Mankell has devised for his detective.
I don't want to give anything away for the sake of future readers, except to say that the big "shock" when it comes near the end wasn't really a surprise to me, and shouldn't be to anyone who's paying close attention to the plot. The fact that it took Wallander months to determine what was happening may be traced to his age and illnesses.
This appears to be Kurt's last case about which we will read, but I hope not, although the author seems rather adamant that it will be so. I'm sorry for that, and I will miss these excellent novels, and the characters I have grown to know and like, very much.
on April 7, 2011
It's hard to write a comment without including some spoilers.
Like so many others, I yearned for another Wallander story, and when it finally came, I could not wait to read it. However, when I closed the covers of what appears to be the last of the Wallanders, I was disappointed. In this book, Wallander is a tired, dispirited 60 year old man with serious health issues, who dreads a future of loneliness. He acts and thinks like a far older man. There was some meanspiritedness in the way that former important characters were dealt with, including some views about his own father's paintings. What glimmers of optimism and hope that can be gleaned, are found in his new grandchild. The plot was not very solid and there was a lot of traveling back and forth (there has been a lot of that in Mr. Mankell's recent novels). Just as you were getting into the rhythm of the story, he'd be off on another journey. I came to feel sorry for his dog, Jussi, always being left with the neighbors.
The story was touching and there was much of the fine writing that had propelled the series to international fame. Of course people age and life's disappointments accumulate and weigh a person down. One expects this. But the mood of the book was sad and almost unrelentingly hopeless. Did Mr. Mankell himself become tired of his hero? Did he resent the clamoring for yet another Wallander book and decide to punish his character and his readers all at the same time? I don't insist on a happy ending, but I can't help but think that the readers who came to love these stories and who liked and admired the character, deserved a better finale than this.
A better title for Henning Mankell's newest mystery might be "The Troubled Men." The novel, the series' 11th, is the first Kurt Wallander story in more than a decade and according to a note at the beginning it is likely to be the last investigation for the Ystad, Sweden, Detective Chief Inspector.
Set in the present day, the story has not one but two very worried old men struggling to resolve their past while facing an uncertain and, for them, frightening future. The first is a retired Swedish naval commander Hakan von Enke, who at 75 is the "troubled man" of the title.
Von Enke's son Hans and Wallander's daughter Linda are living together and have given Wallander his first grandchild, a girl. At a birthday party he has thrown for himself, the elder von Enke confides to Wallander details of a maritime incident in the 1980s involving a foreign submarine, suspected to be Russian, invading Swedish territorial waters.
Von Enke commanded the Swedish destroyer given the order to launch depth charges to bring the foreign sub to the surface. At the very last minute someone high within the military or Swedish government, perhaps the prime minister, contravened those orders.
For the ensuing three decades von Enke has been doggedly determined to find out who was responsible for aborting the action and allowing the foreign sub to slip through the net. Now, he tells Wallander he may be closing in on answers, which may have implications that rock international relations and threaten the Swedish government. Shortly afterward he vanishes, leaving behind everything but clues. A few months later von Enke's wife Louise also goes missing without a trace.
The second troubled man is Wallander, now 60, who is distressed by the infirmities of age and of being alone. He experiences frequent memory lapses where "whole chunks of time disappear. Like ice melting away." A tooth falls out while he's interviewing someone involved in the case and, a diabetic, he blacks out in the shower when his blood sugar level falls dangerously low. Normally a reticent figure, in this book he's expressive. He's terrified of death, more so of becoming decrepit and unable to dote on his granddaughter.
"I feel old. I wake up every day feeling that everything is going so incredibly fast. I don't know if I'm running after something or away from something. I just run. To be completely honest, I'm scared stiff of growing old."
Mankell makes Wallander's plight poignant. "The Troubled Man" also manages to be an exciting thriller, fast paced and filled with all the plot twists and turns we expect from Mankell. His style is to be straightforward and very logical in the telling, but without all the blood and mayhem found in other Scandinavian storytellers such as Jo Nesbo. Mankell is more in a league with Ian Rankin.
Carefully constructed, "The Troubled Man" also is very melancholy. The novel can be as dark and somber as the Scandinavian winter, but I think every reader, especially Boomers who fall into Wallander's age bracket, will remember the book as being almost elegiac. Wallander is portrayed eventually as someone feeling "as if everything has fallen silent. As if all colors had faded away, and all he was left with was black and white."
Late in the novel, when the loose ends and questions are still hanging, it's left to Wallander to figure out the truth and dig deeper to find answers. That's when he remembers something a former lover said, "behind every person there's always someone else."
By the end, we've learned all the answers and we've come to know Wallander in all his complexities, hopes and fears. We have learned all about the inspector there is to know. We have the answers solve the mystery and we've also seen deep into Wallander's soul in a way that makes "The Troubled Man" the most satisfying book in the series. It's moving and memorable.
on July 26, 2011
In the last year, I became a fan of Henning Mankell's series of Swedish mystery novels featuring his iconic character, detective Kurt Wallander. As fans of the series know, Mankell decided to bring the series to an end, publishing the last of his Wallander books, "The Troubled Man," in late March. I wish I could say that it's a worthy end to the series; alas, it's not.
In this book, Wallander is weighted down throughout by his sense of the encroachment of old age (but he's only 60!) and a weakening of his mental powers. The melancholy this sense stirs up pervades the whole book. The central narrative involves Wallander's efforts to discover what happened to a former Swedish submarine commander and his wife, both of whom suddenly disappear without a trace. As things unfold, the wife's body is soon discovered and Wallander deduces the whereabouts of the husband. The investigation takes Wallander deep into spy plots and Cold War espionage. None of it is particularly suspenseful or interesting. And the whole plot seems draggy and tired (like poor Wallander himself). Worst of all, after he wraps the whole thing up rather hastily, Mankell ends up disposing of our beloved hero/detective with one lousy paragraph. Talk about a rude send-off!
on July 8, 2011
I stuck by this book, even though a key plot element was practically underlined and in caps early on. As soon as Hakan disappears anyone who has even read cursorily knows where he is. Maybe this was done to underscore Wallender's deteriorating mental condition. If like me you know something about the author and his politics, it wasn't very hard to figure out what had happened. Also, the book would be about 100 pages shorter if no one drank coffee or got caught in sudden downpours. Will Linda Wallender take over as the new lead character?
on August 22, 2011
If an author wants to write a book about growing old in Sweden and having to endure personal angst, failing health issues and the harridans that are the main character's closest relatives, fine. But if you call it a murder mystery, you should respect the reader. That means the plot should be free from contrived coincidences and fundamental motives should be explained.
Henning Mankell's "The Troubled Man" is a smorgasbord of mystery novel silliness. For example: Why did the submarine commander suddenly disappear? What was he afraid of? Thirty years after the crucial event of the book and twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, who cares if he was a spy? Why was his wife killed? Who killed her? Even Wallander admits that had the submarine commander been exposed today he would have treated as a hero - not a traitorous villain. So fear of exposure can be ruled out. But what can we rule in?
And it's too contrived that the protagonist, Wallander, should happen to know a high level East German officer of Stasi who happened to defect to him years earlier? And that this officer would just happen to be privy to nasty, nefarious poisons used by Stasi assassins in the 1960's? And how fortunate for us, the readers, that Wallander just happened to grow up in the same small town with a bullied kid that just happened to collect a vast amount of minutia on Swedish Naval history. Erle Stanley Garner at his worst didn't have this many preposterous plot props.
This book is chock-a-block full of angst and turmoil but it's missing basic expository. Explaining certain details - like why a pair of shoes was placed in a certain way - isn't necessary. But forgetting to explain adequately the basic reasons for the crime(s) is a form of literary fraud. Or, at least, genre fraud. Call it a coming-of-old-age novel. Call it a kill-off-the-main-character novel. But don't call it a murder mystery.
(p.s. Under normal circumstances I would have thrown this book across the room upon completion. Since I wasn't about to throw my Kindle, I found myself tossing old issues of Opera News and The New Yorker instead. Apologies to Opera News.)
on June 19, 2011
I eagerly read most of the K Wallender series of books and it introduced me to many other Scandinavian authors of mysteries. This novel starts promisingly enough with the strange disappearance of a senior retired naval officer and then the later disappearance of his wife, and the intimation that this may be related to Russian spies and submarine shenanigans in the 1980's . The middle part of the novel is largely about Kurt's problems and angst; he turned 60, he has insulin dependent diabetes and takes poor care of himself, he has a nagging and annoying daughter, a former lover dying of cancer, an ex wife crazy and alcoholic and institutionalized, he gets mugged by teenagers, his boss is a problem and he has only one friend now in the department. The novel spends considerable space documenting when he comes and goes and when he eats and where and what he does with his dog Jussi, and I'm surprised there isn't information about his bowel habits. He has intermittent brief total memory lapses that are very transient and that do not sound like Alzheimer's but suggest the author is about to jettison this fellow. The last portion of the novel is an absolutely ridiculous scenario that the elderly former naval officer is hiding because of stolen spy documents many and I mean many years ago and that his wife is killed to protect his identity as a spy. So who are the actual spies, well of course The Great Satan the USA, not the Russians. Of course, the USA would be vitally interested Swedish secrets?!
This is lousy and inane novel and seems to me mostly a diatribe about the coarsening of Swedish culture and resentment about America's influence.
on April 11, 2011
I have been a follower of the adventures of Kurt Wallander since the beginning of the series and have read the novels several times. I found this concluding novel, The Troubled Man, well . . . troubling.
Since I am 62 years old and in good health, I find it shocking that Wallander is falling apart at the age of 60! I can sympathize with the many irritations of aging and the loneliness as friends die or fall away, but Wallander is made to seem decrepit in this novel. Today's 60 is yesteryear's 45.
I was also disappointed with the lack of any conclusive ending. What has been learned? Has Wallander come away with any important new knowledge about the world? What was the point of the exercise?
I will be going to a lecture by Mankell tonight. I will be asking him some of these questions.
I found the ending depressing.
on August 18, 2011
Like many other reviewers, I had heard wonderful things about the Kurt Wallander character and the earlier novels. The Troubled Man was my first KW novel and I'm incredibly disappointed. The book was so incredibly slow moving as we constantly hear about the Swedish weather, tangential information and characters that do nothing but bog you down in useless details. Even at the end, there are numerous loose ends that the author makes no attempt to tie together or explain. Did he just write intriguing twists and turns only to have them turn out to be red herrings or did he just not know how to piece them together? As a physician, I can tell you that his medical characterizations of Alzheimer's disease are absurd, with an ending to this book that is ridiculous and insulting to his many fans.
I am rather new to Kurt Wallander. I have read three of his books and then went right to 'The Troubled Man'. Now, I must go back and catch up, though that is not really needed. This is a stand alone book. What I discovered is that this character, Kurt Wallander is leaving us. Towards the end of the book, he writes down his own version of the story we have just read. It is very complex, he intends to send his account anonymously to the Stockholm colleague in charge of the case they have been working on. Kurt Wallander is a Swedish police detective, in rural Ystad. In this novel he explores the relationship between the state, Swedish parliament and the military. Wallander has another motive for looking at his past. He fears old age will force him to stop working, and his physical and mental lapses are worrisome. He remembers his father's descent into dementia.
Kurt Wallander's daughter, Linda, has become pregnant and her significant other, Han's parents have invited him to a birthday party. Kurt and Han's father, Hakan von Enke, hit it off. Hakan is a former commander in the Swedish navy who specialized in both commanding and hunting down submarines. He goes on to tell Kurt a story of Russian submarines, and one that was found in suspicious circumstances. Later Hakan goes missing and then the real mystery develops. Wallander's investigation reveals deep family secrets and quite a bit about recent Swedish naval history. The mystery is fascinating, but the final few sentences left me quite upset, even though the signs were there all along. The book was so well done, but ultimately, saddened that there would be no more in this series and sad at the way it ended.
Wallander does not seem to be a particularly happy person, and working on his own, during his summer holiday, there is time for a review of his life. He thinks about his relationships with Linda, his ex-wife Mona and other people that meant something to him. There are also references to earlier cases and there is a sense of all loose ends having been tied up. Hanning Mankell is a superb writer of mystery. He gives us detail that is significant, and the story widens into one of surprises and reminiscence. Kurt Wallander is a man that I feel I know, and now it is difficult to let him go. Will Kurt's daughter, Linda get a chance to tell her tales?
Highly Recommended. prisrob 04-20-11
The Pyramid: The First Wallander Cases (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)
A Bridge to the Stars