Review: Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

Ok, really, what is the deal with Wallander? The last two years have been nothing but BBC4 parties and Dragon Tattoo antidotes. Balding alcoholic policemen are the new black. With my finger on the pulse of popular culture as ever, I had only managed to catch the last 5 minutes of episodes of the Swedish version – revelations that of course meant absolutely nothing to me, although I was sad because he got stood up at the end –  and it’s taken me until now to actually pick up a book. But with all the hype, I thought there might be something to it. Must have done something to attract these lookers.

Krister Henriksson 

Seriously, Ken, why are you even in that field?

Anyhoo, I dutifully bought my copy of what I thought was the first Wallander mystery (it’s hard to tell since they churned out all the sexy new editions) and tucked in.

What the hell?

This guy is alcoholic (who isn’t?!), slightly misogynistic (fine, he’s police), a bit racist (umm…) but above all he’s BORING. This man is so dull. I thought having demons to exorcise would make him a dark and brooding figure. Look at those craggy faces up there. Each one etched with a deep, shadowy secret, surely? No. This man is just obsessed with motorways and driving around and ok, solving crime, but even then that’s interspersed with bitching about bureaucracy and making a clumsy pass at the DA. That description actually suggests a charm that the book doesn’t have. It isn’t charming in its realism or its dullness. A man has been gruesomely tortured. But it’s still DULL.

In order to alleviate the boredom, I started to underline passages I found particularly irritating.

Wallander raised his eyebrows in surprise.

As opposed to raising your eyebrows in, say, fear. Or disgust. Or joy.

I’ve got to talk to Mona, he thought. I’ve got to talk to her after all that’s happened. And I’ve got to talk to my daughter. I have to visit my father and see what I can do for him. On top of all that I really ought to catch the murderers…

REALLY? OUGHT you? I don’t care how many glasses of whisky you’ve had, nobody narrates their to-do list in the style of a poorly written children’s book.

[Maybe a SPOILER ALERT but probably not if you’ve seen any synopses, episodes or the back cover of any of the books] So Wallander’s father is obviously getting on a bit, and he’s obviously losing his marbles. He’s a bit brusque with Wallander, which obviously as a trained police officer with over 30 years of fighting crime, Kurt is inordinately poorly equipped to deal with. So instead, we hear complaints about how poor his dad’s standard of living is, and how he can’t seem to look after himself. But it is only after 200 pages of him not being able to look after himself, an episode of full blown dementia AND a visit from his sister that he realises:

…it would be best, all the same, if their father could keep on living in his own house, with regular home visits.

He doesn’t even have to go in a home! There is nothing drastic about this action! Why are you so unaware of everything that goes on around you AND YET ALSO SPECTACULARLY UNABLE TO SOLVE THE CRIME YOU’RE SUPPOSEDLY OBSESSED WITH.

Maybe it’s the pared down narration that is either characteristic of Swedish crime novels, or characteristic of the way English-speaking publishers think Swedish crime readers want their novels to sound. But it just sounded flat. The whole thing was just another bureaucratic exercise like the daily plans Wallander makes with his team.

There was just one bit, ONE BIT, where this all got turned on its head. Wallander, who holds a bit of a torch for the new DA, takes her for dinner and a stroll. They have a chat about parking tickets and her family.

‘How often do you go home?’ he asked.
‘Every other week.’
‘And your husband? The children?’
‘He comes down when he can. And the children when they feel like it.’
I love you, thought Wallander. I’m going to see Mona tonight and I’m going to tell her that I love another woman.
They said goodbye in reception.

This is the only moment in the whole novel where I thought ‘This is brilliant!’ It is. Brilliant. That is exactly how it happens. They say something totally inane but because you’ve been dreaming about kissing them for the last 2 months all you can think of is ‘TAKE ME I’M YOURS.’ It speaks to every one of us that’s had a terrible, inappropriate and totally debilitating crush on a work colleague. But sadly, that was the only ray of sunshine in an otherwise drab, rather than moody, novel.

Rating: 
In a tweet: All the high octane bureaucracy, grumbling and middle-aged married-man concerns you can handle. Oh, and a murder.

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