Thursday, 17 March 2011

Faceless Killers

I really enjoyed the BBC adaptations of the Wallander books. People tell me I should try the Swedish-language series but to be honest if I'm going to have to cope with the subtitles I might as well go the whole hog and read the books by Henning Mankell. So here we go. Start at the beginning is my mantra, even if this first story is still relatively fresh in my memory from 14 months ago. Faceless Killers kicks off with a prologue cunningly disguised as Chapter One (I say that because I hate prologues with a vengeance so fierce that I wouldn't put any devious trick beyond their nefariousness). I needn't have bothered as it turned out to be the best piece of writing in the book; a stark, poignant prelude detailing the discovery of the murder scene before we join our main protagonist for the duration.
The rest of the book stays tight to following Wallander around as he doggedly directs the investigation while trying to scrape the remains of his private life into something he can cling onto, skimming his internal monologue where required. The book works well as both a police procedural and as a character study, coloured (if that's the right word) by the cold bleakness of the Swedish winter. If there are problems with the book I'd have to point at the long list of poorly drawn supporting characters, starkly one dimensional against
the richness of Wallander's character. The less Wallander cares about a character the less you get to know about them. Some are barely characterised at all; one detective's only distinction is a liking for horse racing. The translation from Swedish to English pokes you in the eye a few times with some slightly off context dialogue, but it's not too bad. Maybe I've read too much Chinese to English manga for it to bother me.
Kurt Wallander is the acting chief of police in the small Swedish town of Ystad. His marriage has been devoured by his dedication to his job, his daughter avoids him, his father is slipping into senility and what friends he once had have faded away. He works long hours, eats badly, drinks too much and is dogged by bad luck.
For those who want a bit of extra seasoning to spice their reading tastes there's a social commentary going on throughout, most notably examining immigration and the way society compares to people's conception of the past. I'm glad Mankell chose to use real Swedish locations and didn't just create an imaginary town. I always prefer to read about real places. It's refreshing to see the world from a different perspective than the usual American or British standpoint.
I'll definitely continue with the series, even though I've already encountered many of their tv incarnations.

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