Saturday, October 31, 2015

"The Troubled Man", the last Wallander novel

Henning Mankell died in early October at the age of 67.  He was a prodigious writer of plays, essays, novels, and was most widely known for his series of Kurt Wallander mysteries.  Many of those were read here over the years.  The most attractive part of reading a Wallander novel was more the character development of the many nuanced Wallander than the riddle of any mystery.

"The Troubled Man" was written in 2009 when Mankell was 60 and published in English in 2011.  It had not been read here, and was picked up a few weeks ago in response to Mankell's death.  Not by coincidence one could think, the fictional Wallander was 60 in this intended final novel of the series.

Shortly before the end of this novel, Wallander begins writing a long description of the crime just solved, which evolves into something much more.  "It wasn't long before it dawned on him what he was really doing.  He was writing about himself and his own life just as much as about Hakan von Enke(a character in the novel)."  Could the twist have gone the other way as well, between author Mankell and character Wallander.

Even more than other books in this mystery series, this one focuses on what is happening with Wallander's life.  It seems to be as much a meditation on aging as it is the best historical fiction that Mankell has ever written.  Wallander broods, Wallander always broods, about where he could live as he ages, his lack of close friends, his fear of loneliness, his fear of pain, and his worst nightmare, Alzheimer's, which during the course of "The Troubled Man" he fears is beginning to build within him.  This is a thinking person's mystery, both in terms of the character development and the story itself.

Mankel himself was a person with wide interests.  One could say that he was the Vanessa Redgrave of Sweden as he was an outspoken supporter of the Palestinian cause and ventured around the world as a social activist to support what he viewed as open minded and just policies.  He spent at least half of each year in Africa, mostly Mozambique, and was head of the national theater there.  He made his mark in many places and spent most of his Wallander series' earnings on charities, primarily charities for children in Africa.  His Wallander series was entertainment that is closer to real literature than any mystery series going.  "The Troubled Man" could even go over that hurdle.

Postscript:   The title, "The Troubled Man" does not refer to Detective Wallander.  It refers to a fictional 75 year old former commander in the Swedish Navy who was involved in a tangle of spying between Sweden, the Soviet Union, and the United States in the late 1970's/early 1980's.  That is the setting for the novel, and the origin of the intrigue in this historical fiction.


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