The first two chapters of the first in the ten book series of Kurt Wallander novels by Henning Mankell grabs you and sucks you into a story with a force that rarely lessens throughout the entire book.
“’What are you doing?” she says, and he can tell that she’s annoyed.
As he replies, he feels sure. The terror is real.
‘The mare isn’t whinnying,” he says, sitting down on the edge of the bed. ‘And the Lovgrens’ kitchen window is wide open. And someone is shouting.’
She sits up in bed.
‘What did you say?’
He doesn’t want to answer, but now he’s sure it wasn’t a bird that he heard.
‘It’s Johannes or Maria,’ he says. ‘One of them is calling for help.’
She gets out of bed and goes over to the window. Big and wide, she stands there in her white nightgown and looks out in the dark.
‘The kitchen window isn’t open,’ she whispers. ‘It’s smashed.’”
Important throughout the book is the landscape and the weather so on one of the first couple of pages there is a map of the local area with the main towns and an idea of the location of the landmarks that start to get mentioned in the book. Most of the time there is a threat of snow that keeps the main character Kurt Wallander occupied as it seems to be a barometer for his mood and health.
But what keeps this story going is not just the brutal murder of two old people who lived on a farm but the fact that there does not seem to be a motive for it. The police are left scrambling in the dark and because Wallander’s boss is on holiday he gets to pick up the case and the responsibility for managing the team of policemen who he deploys to try and discover what happened to the old couple.
Along with the case unfolding, which it does painfully slowly, there is plenty of opportunity to introduce Wallander. He is a divorced father of one, a 19-year-old girl Linda who he has never really managed to get close to since he discovered her trying to commit suicide when she was 15. His wife has left him not for another man but because life with him was unbearable and his father is on the brink of going senile and for some reason hates the fact his son became a policeman.
Wallander is in his early forties, likes classical music and a drink and has an eye for women of a particular type. He has the instincts needed to crack crimes but more importantly the dogged determination not to let them go. His is ably abetted by his colleague Rydberg but he has cancer and by the end of the book is on his way out of the picture. Other policemen come and go but the burden of solving the case falls on Wallander’s shoulders.
Where this works so well is that Mankell introduces a second crime to not only keep boredom from the door but also demonstrate just how successful Wallander is with a race hate murder involving an ex-Policeman.
All of the police procedures are here with the pain and annoyance of press conferences, the battles with the prosecutor to get warrants and arrests. It makes it clear the frustration with not only trying to find a couple of unknown killers but also how it can become a bogged down process just filling in the paperwork.
The final section of any thriller has to get you galloping through the pages breathless as the final page comes. This does get you going with the breakthrough in the case coming months after everyone else has given up. When they do manage to get the men the sense of relief and the story all falling into place is evident for Wallander who has by that time managed to at least comes to terms with his divorce and father’s decline in health.
Of course a test of any good thriller, particularly one that is the first of a ten part series is whether or not you would read anymore.
Just try stopping me…
Version read – Vintage paperback