Tuesday, October 17, 2006

New-ish Wallander novel, and translations out of order

Maxine posted a response to one of my recent entries, complaining about translations of crime novels that are done out of order. The recently published The Man Who Smiled, by Henning Mankell, is a case in point. This was actually the 4th of the Inspector Wallander novels, between The White Lioness and Sidetracked. And in fact, the second novel in the series, Dogs of Riga, was also translated out of order. The excellent Swedish TV films taken from the series also appear to have come out out of order (and with the plots of the books intermingled and changed, so that events from one book appear in a film taken from another one, etc.). All this is very confusing. I'm assuming that publishers in the U.S. and U.K. want to either capitalize on what they think is a better book later in the series, or perhaps to characterize the series in a way that the next one in line doesn't quite do (for instance, Dogs of Riga is a sort of thriller rather than a police procedural per se, though the procedural form does dominate that book as well). Even more irritating, to me, is the practice of starting the translations in the middle of a series, perhaps leaving the early books untranslated or published as if they were "prequels." By the way, Liza Marklund is apparently responsible for her series being out of order: Studio Sex (a salacious title taking advantage of the Swedish word for six) is a prequel to The Bomber, her "Stockholm Olympics" novel--she's filling in the backstory for her character. But back to The Man Who Smiled: this novel stays more tightly focused on the police investigation than any other Mankell novel except the first, The Faceless Killers. When the investigation plods, so does the novel; when the cops go back over the same ground again and again, so does the narrative. So if you like the police procedural (and I do) then you'll like this entry in the series. If you prefer a more straightforward crime plot, or entry into the mind of the criminal, then this one is not for you. The only glimpse beyond the detective's point of view (though there's a 3rd person narrator) is at the beginning (as is usual with Mankell's books), when an old man who is afraid flees what it is he fears in his car, is mysteriously killed--though the police afterwards think he died in an accident. Wallander is lured back from the brink of retirement (more on that in a minute) by pleas from the dead man's son that it could not have been an accident--but Wallander only answers the plea when the son is himself murdered (unmistakably this time). The clues lead to a powerful man who is mostly (and effectively) offstage. Though the ending is perhaps just the reverse--the final confession is a bit stagey. But overall, it's an effective novel in following how the truth is uncovered when we are all sure who the killer is, but not how he can be proved guilty. One aspect of the Wallander series that is typical of Scandinavian crime novels generally (and distinctively) is the law-abiding and even politically correct quality of the police detectives. Wallander is shattered by an event in the previous novel, in which he killed a man (clearly necessary but nonethelss guild-inducing for Wallander). He worries about drinking and driving (a theme going back to the first novel) and other social crimes. In fact, the Scandinavian fictional detectives seem to be the most socially responsible of all crimem heroes or anti-heroes. I guess it's so ingrained in the culture that the chain-smoking, heavy-drinking noir detective is not possible in the context of Scandinavian culture (except in the case of Harry Hole, Jo Nesbo's Norwegian detective, who is so spectacularly alcoholic that he is the aggressively anti-social exception).


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Maxine said...

I'm with you on this book. I would not have read it becuase I've read all the subsequent ones already, but i was asked to review it. I found the ending a bit stagey but in a way that did not matter because the book just carries you along. He's good.
I think he has another "Linda Wallender" book out soon? Hope so, anyway. (As he seems to have given up on Kurt now.)