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.

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