My copy of the book was sitting in the pile, waiting to be read, and then Henning Mankell died, and I wrote my piece (you can read that here) and said my bit on The Crime Vault Live (follow the link you'll find here), and the very next day after that I read the story but found I couldn't write about it right away.
Although it's billed as a 'never-before published' novella, An Event In Autumn was not actually Mankell's final Wallander book; it was originally published in 2004 in the Netherlands, as a give away for people who bought books. It was the basis of one of the BBC Wallander TV shows, and finally Mankell took it back and published it in 2013. It is set, as Mankell explains in a brief afterword, just before The Troubled Man, which ended the series (you can read my review here), and it is very much an autumnal book, the metaphor as pure and shining as snow. Not only for the autumn of the character's life, but the autumn of the character in the author's mind, echoing his own autumn (Wallander was 'born' in Mankell's own birth year, 1948).
Wallander is thinking about buying an old house that belongs to his colleague Martinsson's wife's cousin. He's pretty much convinced himself to buy when a nagging thought forces him to look one more time. He returns and finds a skeleton hand poking up from the ground. The skeleton is of a middle-aged woman, and it's been in the ground some 60 years. Wallander no longer wants to buy the house.
The investigation is classic Wallander; slow, somewhat plodding, but complete; always asking the next question and leaving nothing unanswered. The mystery is solved through this plodding work, but the story ends with a somewhat deus ex machina twist. But that isn't really the point.
'It was getting colder' is how one early chapter ends, and like a long poem lines similar to that recur at the end of many other stanzas. At the same time, we are presented with Swedishness, people who only speak when they have something to say, neighbours being neighbours, not friends, and with the prospect of life in old-age homes, where the inner silence and the outer silence merge. It may be what Mankell has called 'the Swedish anxiety'.
In its own quiet way, this is a powerful piece of writing. It's as if its setting the stage for the last Wallander book, and it even recalls 'Wallander's First Case', which appeared in the collection The Pyramid. (You can read my review of that here). It makes an interesting bookend to that fascinating career. Mankell himself writes about Wallander in an essay appended to the story, dated 2013. It's interesting as much for what is left out as for what is included, but it's good for putting the character into the place in which the author would like him to rest. May he rest in that place, and in the ones many of us have made for him in our own imaginations.
An Event In Autumn by Henning Mankell
Vintage, £6.99, ISBN 9781784700843
NOTE: This review will also appear at Crime Time (www.crimetime.co.uk)