Wednesday, December 05, 2007

book review - The Dogs of Riga

After the Faceless Killers, a tight and focused book that introduces the world of Kurt Wallander, you hit Dogs of Riga with high expectations. Initially Henning Mankell starts delivering straight from the off with a couple of dead men drifting ashore in a life raft.

But after that things start to go wrong and the focus of the story moves to Latvia. The reason for the involvement of the Latvian police is the suspicion that the dead men came from there and the case seems to be closed after a police officer from Riga travels over and then heads home having taken responsibility for the case.

Then there is a lull when it looks like the dead men in the raft might have been a red herring before Wallander is heading over to Riga to assist in the murder investigation of the policeman who visited to work on the case.

Once in Riga the firm foundations of the Swedish landscape are replaced by broader strokes and it becomes slightly harder to believe the story. Okay so this is fiction but the police procedural genre is based largely in the reality of police work and this quickly starts to emulate something of a James Bond novel.

Things get even stranger when Wallander realises that there are secret organisations and powers at work in Riga that the murdered police officer got caught up in. His widow becomes the main contact, and a love interest for Wallander, and he promises her after he is sent home after the murder case is conveniently solved, that he will return.

His second trip to Riga is a spy thriller with bullets flying, shady figures following his every step and the two police officers in charge of Riga both being under suspicion of ordering the murder of their colleague. Wallander has to work out which is guilty and gets it wrong only to be saved by his enemy’s enemy in a roof top shoot-out.

He heads home without anyone aware of what he has been doing when he was meant to be skiing in the Alps. He also heads back without the widow who he has fallen in love with despite asking her to return with him.

It reminds you of the Patrick O’Brien novels where he always seems to be happier writing when the action is at sea and it feels a bit awkward and forced when the story is on land. The same happens here with Mankell leaving Sweden to head for Latvia.

But in his defence the point that could be made, and one in fact that is explained slightly in Mankell’s postscript is that this is a book trying to make a statement about the times and the climate in the immediate collapse of Soviet rule. That makes is different from the run of thrillers and does show an awareness that Mankell wants to make a point about the wider world but it is a risky ambition that doesn’t always come off in The Dogs of Riga.

Still it will not put me off reading more of the Wallander books and the next stop is the third in the series The White Lioness.

Version read – Vintage paperback

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