Sunday, April 17, 2011

"The Troubled Man"

This crime novel by Henning Mankell is billed as the final one in his now 12 book Kurt Wallander series. It seems that the "brilliant brooding detective" has solved his last case. This book was first published in Sweden in 2009, the year that both Mankell the writer and Wallandar the character hit their 60th birthdays. It was published in its English translation last month.

"The Troubled Man" title refers to a character in the book that could be either a victim or a suspect. It could be applied to the detective Wallander as well. This book is, in fact, two intertwined stories; one is the mystery involving a missing person, a murder, and leaks from the Swedish intelligence services to other countries in the past, and the second is the narrative of reflections on life by the slowly deteriorating Wallander. Like the aging Italian crime writer Andrea Camilleri and his fictional protagonist Inspector Montalbano, one can wonder here if there is any line between the personal reflections of the writer and those of his main character.

The following thoughts from our detective Wallander capture the creeping angst of his aging experience. Standing alone, these brief excerpts from the book may sound somewhat stilted, but they convey the ideas pondered, and work better in the context of the overall book.

---"History isn't something that's behind us, it's also something that follows us."

---"He thought about remembering what he would prefer to forget, and forgetting what he should remember. He didn't know if it was the same for everyone."

---"All his life he had tried to be part of the forces of good in this world, and if he failed, well he wasn't the only one."

---Responding to his thirty something daughter's nostalgic reminiscence of her childhood --- "I have similar memories. They were the best years of my life, when you were a little girl."

---"What scared him more than anything else was an old age spent waiting to die, a time when nothing of what had been his life was still possible."

---"There was no going back in life, even if he were naive enough to wish that was possible."

Reading those quotes may not send anyone rushing out to buy this book, but they may be misleading as they do not reflect the subtlety of the plot and the observations by the detective at every turn. There is even humor to be found, although subtle may be too strong as a word to describe it.

One thing about the book that troubled this reader at times was a concern about the translation. At times it seemed repetitive(everyone was always "tipsy") and perhaps superficial relative to the thoughts that were apparently being conveyed. I have no basis for making that statement other than an intuitive feeling that perhaps the original form of the book may have somewhat more depth and wondered if I was missing something. On second thought, I'm not sure I could absorb that and sleep well at night.

Mankell's strongly held, enlightened but rigid and decidedly left of center beliefs are for the most part not at all visible in this book and only surface at the end in a way that might not even be picked up by readers who are not familiar with Mankell himself. The book will not offend the politically sensitive.

So all of you 60 something folks out there can give this book a try and for the most part be relieved that you are not as tortured as our dear now departed soul Wallander, or be reassured that you are not alone.


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