Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The White Lioness

After the underwhelming Dogs of Riga I was hoping for a big fat Swedish murder investigation this time. The White Lioness is a far superior animal by far but it's also not entirely that big fat dose of Wallander I wanted. Written just before South Africa would throw away the worst of its horrific identity, Mankell once again writes a book that is so very rooted in the time of its writing - here the early 90s leading up to the eventual free elections in 1994. The first segment of the book is excellent. Wallander is still not quite on an even keel after his ordeal in Latvia. He throws himself into the mystery of a missing woman. A woman with no reason to disappear.
My biggest problem with this book is the way this promising opening is just cut off in mid flow. We turn a page and leave Wallander behind. For a chapter we think. Well maybe two chapters. Any time now. 50 pages. Can't be long now. 80 pages. Please. 100 pages... you've got to be kidding me!!! Don't get me wrong. The narrative here is still excellently written and Mankell gives us a very creditable, though Swedish filtered attempt at showing Afrikaner society through the eyes of de Klerk, the secret service and a shadowy organisation dedicated to preserving apartheid by assassinating Mandela. Is it Wallander meets The Day of the Jackal? Oh very definitely, though the assassins here aren't really in the Jackal's class, though why they decide to train in Sweden is beyond me. Any half decent assassin would probably conduct his preparations in a neighbouring country.
Eventually the action returns back to Sweden and the book starts to burn again. Wallander skips the rails even more spectacularly than usual, which gives Svedberg an opportunity to step out of the shadows thrown by Mankel's previously sketchy characterisation, joining the very small cast of fully drawn players.
From a political standpoint the book has become a bit of curiosity, a set of Swedish tinged views on a long dead social system, separated by a couple of decades from today's contemporary incarnation. As a thriller and a detective story the book does eventually redeem itself, though the way the two threads are woven together could have been much better.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Cop Hater (87th Precinct #1)

This is the first book in Ed McBain's long running police procedural series 87th Precinct. McBain would continue writing the ongoing series for half a century until 2005, the year of his death.
Someone is killing cops with a 45 calibre handgun. Steve Carella and the rest of the precinct have to find the killer before he kills again. Carella and Teddy are unmarried still and between the exhaustive investigation the pair try to snatch enough time together to decide on a date for the wedding.
As with quite a few of his books McBain makes good use of the weather conditions. You can almost feel the heat throughout. The last time I read one of these it was to the other polar extreme, with the city literally freezing in the depth and dark of winter. What really makes 87th Precinct books work though is the to and fro between the cops, the banter, some of it digging into the investigations or just the mix of everyday talk of a bunch of guys doing a day to day job, friendships, rivalries - real dialogue. McBain doesn't let the plot rule him. He takes time to develop characters and aspects of the city that sometimes have little or nothing to do with the central plot line. It's all canvas for big the picture. Don't expect summarised forensic reports either. For example if Carella gets a lab or ballistic report expect to hear it line for line. With this being the first book there's quite a lot of technical and scientific stuff to cover too. Fingerprints - here comes a breakdown of the chemical process that results in finger prints being created. It's just one of those signature elements that makes the series what it is.
Cop Hater isn't going to be the best book in the series but it does serve as a great introduction. The book was adapted for a 1958 movie of the same name starring Robert Loggia in the Carella/Carelli role.