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THE TROUBLED MAN
by Henning Mankell and Laurie Thompson, trans.
Knopf Canada, March 2011
384 pages
$32.95 CAD
ISBN: 0307398838


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The story begins, more or less, in January, 2007, on the beach at Mossby Strand where so many other critical events in Kurt Wallander's life have taken place. This was where his daughter Linda announced her decision to join the police, where the two bodies came ashore in the case that sent him to Riga and the love of his life. And now, he hears that he will shortly become a grandfather. Linda is living with Hans von Enke, a hedge fund manager of all things, and wants to introduce Kurt to him and to his mother and father in Stockholm.

The father, Håkan von Enke, takes Wallander aside for a private conversation at the party celebrating the former submarine commander's 75th birthday. He tells Wallander a long and by no means clear story about how a presumed Soviet submarine was allowed to escape from Swedish waters almost thirty years ago and how von Enke had been pursuing the facts behind this mysterious reprieve ever since. But the man seems troubled, the first "troubled man" of the title, and Wallander suspects he is also frightened and perhaps armed. Before very long Håkan has disappeared without a trace and although this is a case for the Stockholm cops, Wallander keeps after it on his own time.

Despite the references to espionage, Cold War politics, and spycraft, this is by no means a thriller. It proceeds at an almost glacial pace, under the perpetually rainy Swedish skies. It does finish off in the requisite burst of tension and violence, but even then much is left unresolved, even unspoken. What appeared as pivotal plot points go unexplained and Wallander can only remark that, like the murder of Olaf Palme, whose spirit broods over the novel, sometimes there are no solutions.

Wallander has not appeared in a novel of his own in ten years and fans had begun to think that Mankell had simply lost interest in his gloomy hero (whom The Independent's James Urquhart dubs Inspector Morose). But clearly Mankell was not finished with him and it is his story that is the core of THE TROUBLED MAN. Wallander is very troubled indeed - he has turned 60, time's winged chariot is at his back, and he is suffering from a variety of physical and psychological complaints. His diabetes is worse, he drinks too much, eats badly, suffers from insomnia and bad dreams, and is beset by occasional mental blackouts which his doctor attributes to stress but which he suspects may be the harbinger of early-onset dementia. The only bright spot really in his life is his little granddaughter, Klara, who holds the hope of a new beginning.

It is a tribute to the richness of Mankell's characterization of his far from immediately sympathetic protagonist that, despite the slow pace, plot weaknesses, and Laurie Thompson's characteristically arthritic translation, I found it difficult to put THE TROUBLED MAN down. Being privy to Wallander's despairing struggle with declining health and advancing age was deeply touching. Readers new to the series but curious about it will not feel at a loss if they begin here as Mankell has provided all the information we need without ever resorting to those awkward plot synopses that occasionally appear in lengthy series.

Mankell has said that he has arranged the ending so that it will be difficult for him to bring Wallander back for a curtain call. It may indeed be time for Mankell to say farväl to his gloomy policeman, but I for one will miss him.

§ Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, April 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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