Henning Mankell

Dwight V. Swain (“Techniques of the Selling Writer”) on developing “non-tension” factors in a story:

“But no matter how threatening the situation, between moments of crisis life goes on. You eat. You sleep. You shop, change a tire, make polite conversation, take in a movie. Ignore such routine, trivial as it may seem, and your story takes on a somehow shadowy, unsubstantial air. Include it, inserted between climaxes, and you increase the feeling that you’re dealing with actual people, real events.”

Which bring us to Kurt Wallander. He’s a mess. He’s worried about his weight, he can’t sleep, he’s in a weird place with his ex-wife, his father is acting demented and at one point Wallander finds himself spying on his own daughter. Just for starters. In “Faceless Killers” Henning Mankell integrates the real world of a cop’s life with the pursuit of the murder or murderers of an elderly couple on a remote farm.Faceless Killers - Henning Mankell

“Integrates” isn’t quite right. The lines are blurred between real problems and police work—Wallander flops back and forth between personal and professional worries. They are intertwined, part of what makes up his DNA.

Wallander just deals with it. He’s stoic, rugged and tougher than he knows. He approaches the case in “Faceless Killers” with sheer doggedness and a few moments of physical exertion. His brain looks for the threads. He’s tireless. There are false leads and then an even bigger false lead but Wallander presses on, undeterred. “The solution and the truth might be found through the combination of the most inconsequential information,” he realizes.

The action is straightforward. Mankell’s style doesn’t change whether he’s describing Wallander eating a meal, interviewing a suspect or swinging upside down. “He tried to wriggle loose. But his foot was wedged in tight. He was hanging in midair, unable to do anything. The blood was pounding his temples.” At times the writing is a bit clunky, overly straightforward but it’s effective and clear.

Through it all, Wallander watches the changes in Sweden and wonders if he can keep up. “A new world had emerged, and he hadn’t even noticed it. As a policeman, he still lived in another, older world. How was he going to learn to live in the new? How would he deal with the great uneasiness he felt at these changes, at so much happening so fast?” Given how much we know about the real world Wallander lives in, this challenge carries weight. We feel it.

The ending is drawn out. In a good way. It’s untypical. What we think is the climb to a pitched battle fizzles. The secret is down deep in the brain, the one processing all these human problems. The pitch is in control and feels completely routine, grounded. The message: solving these cases takes time, effort, character. Wallander’s humanity, because he springs from the gritty substance of life, burns through.


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