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by Henning Mankell
Vintage Canada, February 2006
384 pages
ISBN: 0676977634

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Summertime in Sweden is evidently only marginally more cheerful than winter. Linda Wallander has just graduated from the police academy and is awaiting her first posting. In the meantime, she is bored, cranky, and living temporarily with her father, Kurt, with whom relations are strained.

Despite their tendency to yell and throw things at one another and although Linda is still not officially on the force, she becomes closely, even dangerously, involved in an investigation into a particularly gruesome crime which has left just the head and clasped hands of a middle-aged woman in a remote lakeside cabin.

Strange events have preceded this discovery -- swans set alight to plunge to their deaths in the lake, a pet store full of small animals torched -- and more sinister still are yet to come. Why does the name of the decapitated victim appear in the diary of Linda's friend who has oddly disappeared? And where is she, anyway?

Though Wallander has some trouble taking his daughter seriously (perhaps because of her frequent bouts of petulance), she has a great deal in common with her father and pursues the truth with a similar combination of dogged perseverance and inspired intuition.

BEFORE THE FROST is the first in a series billed as a 'Kurt and Linda Wallander mystery,' and it may not be too long before Kurt quietly retires. On the basis of this novel, Mankell is probably wise to ease the transition. Linda is not quite ready for prime time and too much of this book is taken up with the vexed relationship between father and daughter. Linda is supposed to be almost 30, but she acts easily ten years younger with her constant complaints that her father doesn't understand her.

Nevertheless, there is plenty here to please Mankell fans -- the dense plotting that ripples out from a small, if puzzling event, all those minor characters, testy Swedes who are stubborn, rude, and often incomprehensible, and of course the stifling atmosphere of modern Sweden, here linked to the larger context of a post-9/11 world. What the book does cry out for, however, is a better translation. The present effort, by Ebba Segerberg, is painstaking, earnest, and charmless.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, February 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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