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by Henning Mankell
Vintage, September 2003
416 pages
ISBN: 1400031532

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

A firewall is any of a number of security schemes that prevent unauthorized users from gaining access to a computer network or that monitor transfers of information. What an appropriate title for this book, in more ways than one.

First of all, the main area of investigation centers on trying to break through the firewall protection systems on the computer of a dead man. The police have reason to believe that a program in the computer may be set to cause some kind of destruction. The word firewall applies equally well to the life of the lead character, Inspector Kurt Wallander. Always a man who kept his own counsel, he has moved even further in this book to construct barriers between himself and the people around him.

It's 1997 in Ystad, Sweden, and two teenage girls brutally murder a taxi driver, seemingly without reason. A man is found dead at an ATM machine. Later, his body is stolen and placed back at the very same spot where he died. There's a massive blackout in the city, which has been caused by a body disrupting the connections in a power substation. Although these initially seem to be random events, Wallander becomes convinced that they are somehow connected. Discovering what the link is between them is a frustrating activity that consumes much investigative time, with a sense that a clock is ticking down to doom.

The procedural aspects of this book are exceptionally well done. The facts are laid out, and there's an overwhelming feeling that they don't make any sense, that they don't connect together in a way that will explain what the threat is and why it is being made. As time goes on, other information flows in to the team. They meet, analyze and continue on, more or less not understanding enough to even know what they should be doing.

Mankell continues to feed in new morsels of data along the way, and the same analysis scenario is repeated over and over again. That approach led to a feeling that much of the book was redundant, when what was really happening was that the reader was participating just as if they were a part of the investigative team, trying to make sense with limited information available. It was almost like trying to assemble a model without the instructions -- the pieces are all there but it's impossible to put them together without more input.

In its own way, the personal situations that Wallander endures in the book are as interesting as the main narrative. In this book, he is a man facing the fact that his life is essentially meaningless. The work that he found so engrossing in the past is a source of pain. He cannot understand a world where teenage girls commit murder and show no more remorse than if they stepped on an ant.

He cannot live in a system where a trusted colleague betrays him for his own benefit. His boss does not support him and seems willing to believe the worst of him. His malaise comes more and more to the surface. He slaps a girl during an investigation (for a legitimate reason); he hauls off and hits his co-worker. He is subject to bursts of anger. In his personal life, there is no one that cares for him or that he cares about, other than his daughter who has a life of her own to live.

I was caught up by the events in the first three-quarters of the book and found myself swept along by a complex plot and interesting characters. The final segment of the book was a letdown for me, and didn't seem as well written and planned as the earlier portion of the book. As well depicted as the investigation was, the book really lost its impact for me during the final chapters.

In my opinion, Mankell made a huge error in judgment by providing the reader with too much information about an essential character who gained Wallander's trust. This served to eliminate the element of suspense about much of the action and indeed made Wallander look stupid. In spite of that, I recommend the book. This is a must-read book for fans of Kurt Wallander, as he is undergoing many changes, and not necessarily for the better. The last few pages open the door for a very interesting future for this series.

Reviewed by Maddy Van Hertbruggen, August 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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