Saturday, 6 April 2013


Kurt Wallander is 60 years old. He's living in his isolated house with a view of the sea. He's starting to forget things, including one night when he gets drunk and leaves his gun behind in a restaurant. On the home front, his daughter Linda, who followed him into the police, is having a baby, partnered with a Swedish businessman whose father is a naval officer from the old aristocracy. As always with Wallander, he has time to think, especially as he sits out his suspension while the punishment for losing his gun is decided by the odious bureaucratic cop Mattson.

Then Linda's partner's father disappears, and Wallander is drawn into the search—made more personal because Hakan von Enke had previous chosen to share with Wallander the fact that he was troubled, though not the specifics of what it was that was troubling him. Wallander's search eventually involves foreign submarines run aground in Swedish waters, international spying and evasdropping, and even murder. This touches on those keys moments of modern Swedish society—the time of Olaf Palme, and his assassination—which has been at the core of much modern Swedish crime fiction, and which continues to defines the problems of Sweden's view of itself and its place in the modern world. Of course, Wallander's quest is not an official investigation, but that is perfect because it is the detective doing what he has always done best—attempting to solve a mystery, the mystery of human behaviour, the one thing that has always been hardest for him to do.

What develops as he searches for von Enke, and then for von Enke's wife, is something different: it becomes a trawl through Wallander's own past. At times, the devices become a bit strained, as Henning Mankell attempts to cover lots of ground from the past that's been shared through the series, and indeed some that has not. But even if it at times creaks at the edges, the core of it is filled with the rise of emotions, as always restrained and even repressed, in the overwhelmingly Swedish sense, as Wallander and we contemplate his life.

He receives a visit from Baiba, the Latvian woman who was his one true love; he has to deal with Mona,his ex-wife and first love. He is forced to examine himself, and we are given the same opportunity to examine him. It is not always pleasant, but then, it never has been—the reality of Wallander has never been tortured genius, as portrayed by Branagh, or affable insecurity, like Krister Hendriksson. It has been his ordinariness, his restraint, his inability to fit in comfortably with the society he examines as he works. It has been a most Swedish inwardness, made more poignant by the ways in which Mankell has brought the outside world, the modern world, to bear on him. The core of his work has always been Wallander himself, which is what this novel, in its sombre way, celebrates.

For it is Wallander himself who is the troubled man, and his troubles are framed by his past on one side, and his newly-arrived grandaughter on the other. The prospect of tragedy hangs over this entire novel—the reader sits on a sharp edge of fatal anticipation-- but in the end Mankell resolves the Wallander series in exactly the way he has built it over the years, with a simple and, dare I say, Swedish realism or practicality about the nature of our lives themselves. If it isn't optimistic or affirming, neither is it tragic. It is, instead, exactly what it is, and deeply moving, particularly if you have followed the series. This is, obviously, not the place to start reading Wallander—you do not have to have followed the whole series, but the more you know of the man, the more affecting this valedictory novel will be, and the better you will understand Mankell leaving Wallander his last private moments.

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