Friday, 5 February 2010

Wallander: One Step Behind

One Step Behind, by Henning Mankell

Detective fiction is one of my favourite forms of relaxation. I love puzzles of any kind and I want to be kept guessing right to the end. I also love being taken into a new and fascinating world by the writer. I’ve read Donna Leon’s Venetian detective stories (love Venice, quite fancy Brunetti, but they’re not always well written) and I’ve read Anne Zouroudi’s Greek mysteries (brilliant on all counts), so when I caught a couple of episodes of Wallander on TV I was keen to try the books.
The hero, Kurt Wallander, is a detective with an Interior Life in the best traditions of Morse and Adam Dalgleish. Wallander isn’t just a cypher to unravel the plot for the reader. He’s overweight, drinks too much, his romantic life is a desert littered with wreckage, and he has a close, though turbulent relationship with his grown-up daughter. But he is passionate about his work.
In the novel, One Step Behind, he is tracking, and being tracked by, a psychopath, whose strange mind-set baffles police profilers, detectives and the general public. Being able to get inside the mind of a psychopath and make it believable is quite an achievement for a novelist - Patricia Highsmith did it brilliantly, and so do Ruth Rendell and Ian Rankin. Henning Mankell gives a chilling portrait of a mild-mannered loner, living in a sound-proof room, leading a bizarre double life.
The writing’s good too. Sweden in the cool, almost perpetual, daylight of midsummer comes off the page so vividly you can feel the sand blowing in your face. I will be reading more Wallander mysteries and it’s also convinced me I need to read a few other Scandinavian authors too. Everyone’s talking about Steig Larsson, so he’s next on the list. Oh, and there’s a French author (female) called Fred Vargas I’m told I should try. That list should keep me relaxed for quite some time.
On the TV series - apparently Kenneth Branagh is going to be playing Wallander next, but I don’t think he’ll be as authentic as the current Swedish actor.


  1. I always feel that I have missed the boat with a good deal of detective fiction, although I've enjoyed some of Ruth Rendell's novels in the past and did manage to read one Donna Leon. However, I recently saw the Swedish TV version of Wallander and was very impressed, especially by Krister Henriksson, who played Wallander. So, perhaps I should try Henning Mankell. (Did start to watch the UK TV version and didn't get past the first half hour.)

    But you have got me thinking about what sort of reading I turn to when I want to relax.

  2. I think you probably like det. fiction or you don't. For me, it's the puzzle solving element that does it - I'm a puzzle addict!