Faceless Killers, Henning Mankell


I’m not sure why but I had high hopes for Kurt Wallander. Perhaps it was the fact that it had been adapted for TV, wherein he was played by Kenneth Branagh; perhaps it was because I’d read some good reviews. And certainly the opening chapter of Faceless Killers looked set to fulfil those hopes.

An atmospheric farmyard, the dead of night, an increasing sense of unease that things were not right at the neighbours; a prose style that, whilst somewhat terse, had an understated quality to it; a murder with just enough hints of incredible violence without the lurid details and embellishments that a writer like Jo Nesbo may have felt tempted to dwell on.

All seemed well and looked promising.

But never quite delivered for me.

Perhaps it was the fact that this was in translation but I found that the prose was too clipped and too laconic. As the novel progressed, swathes of action were summarised in a matter of paragraphs; months passed within fractions of a sentence; an infatuation became an affair and seemed to fizzle out within two lines.

Perhaps Mankell was trying to accurately capture the sometimes tortuously slow pace of police work; whilst simultaneously maintaining the pace of a novel but, speaking personally, it grated.

Nor did the Big Ideas work. The characters would at times become mouthpieces for political questions. The murders are blamed on foreigners, that being the last words of one of the victims corroborated by a strangely knotted noose. An immigrant camp is firebombed, racist threats are made, an Somali is shot in revenge. And we are treated to a few pages of stilted dialogue about immigration. A known criminal is arrested on a completely unrelated burglary and another couple of pages of dialogue decry the modern police system where we cannot lock people up just because the police think they probably did something or might do something else.

By the process of time, coincidence and luck, Wallander solves the crime.

I will probably persevere with the series in due course. It is on TV after all so must be good! And I am informed that later books are better … But my high hopes are now considerably reduced.

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