Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Henning Mankell, The Troubled Man
I'm tempted to say, "go read the review at http://shadepoint.blogspot.com/
2011/05/review-troubled-man-by-henning-mankell.html, I agree with everything the blogger says." Then I could just point to the U.S. cover (which I don't like) and be done with it. But it's a peculiar book and I can't resist, in the end, saying a few things.
In the Wallander books, Mankell is pulled between his global concerns and the daily lives of people affected by ordinary crimes. Sometimes the balance is excellent (as in the references to xenophobia in Faceless Killers, a topic that, in seeking a vehicle to address it, was apparently the reason he created the Wallander character in the first place. In others, to me, the balance is tilted too much to the global conspiracy (The Man Who Smiled, for instance). And in the non-Wallander books, I frequently find the "daily" aspect shortchanged in favor of the global theme.
In The Troubled Man, the balance is achieved by an unusual emphasis on Wallander himself, and his aging in particular. There's a valedictory tone (noted by Maxine) in the memories and visitations from previous stories, and the detective's health is an ever-present concern, as well as the continuation of his argumentative relationship with his daughter Linda (now a mother). The global plot (which tried my patience a bit at times) is nevertheless well-realized in its own right, a twisty spy story of sorts. The father of Linda's baby introduces Wallander to his own father, a former naval officer who is obsessed with an incident from decades before in which Soviet submarines were detected in Swedish waters. We find out more than most of us will care to know about those submarine incidents, but rest assured that Mankell ultimately makes interested plot-content out of them, in a manner different from all the previous Wallanders. Wallander is pulled into a personal investigation (rather than an official one) when the former officer (Linda's father-in-law-to-be) disappears without a trace.
Much has been written about the gloomy tone of The Troubled Man, and with reason. But the emphasis on only that aspect of the novel shouldn't put off readers (as it initially put me off): Wallander is as he always is, and the investigation proceeds at the usual ruminative pace, leading to a final confrontation that is as active as in any of the stories. As the Shade Point blogger suggests, this is not the book to begin with, no one should start the series here. But anyone who has appreciated the series in its book form, in particular, will be rewarded in the same fashion with this final volume. And the conclusion, much referred to in reviews in negative language, is not what I expected from that advance press (I won't give it away, but it's more respectful to the character than I expected from the reviews).
So I've ended up saying more about The Troubled Man than I thought I might. Go read it, and let us know what you think (it offers more food for thought for both its story and its themes than most crime fiction).