Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Troubled Man, by Henning Mankell

Borzoi/Alfred A. Knopf
2011; originally published as Den orolige mannen, 2009
translated by Laurie Thompson

Without giving anything away, pretty much everyone knows by now that The Troubled Man is the last Wallander novel, and once again within the space of a month I'm having to say goodbye to not only a favorite series, but to a favorite character as well.  I hate when this happens, but series readers know it's likely inevitable at some point.

"It began with the troubled man," who in this case is Håkan von Enke, retired naval officer, husband of Louise and father of Hans. Hans, as it turns out, is a hedge-fund manager and Linda Wallander's significant other, with whom she has a new baby girl.  At Håkan's 75th birthday party, he takes Wallander aside and tells him a rather odd story about a strange incident that occurred during the Cold War, involving Soviet submarines in a Swedish naval installation.  As Wallander listens with interest, he notices Håkan watching someone watching him.  And then, shortly afterwards, Håkan simply disappears while out on a routine walk.  Even though he vanishes out of Wallander's police jurisdiction, Linda begs her father to find out what happened, and Wallander becomes involved.  But when Louise vanishes without a trace, his involvement deepens, and he begins to wonder if both incidents have anything to do with events that happened in the past, in terms of both politics and long-held family secrets.  But von Enke is not the only troubled man in the story -- that title can also be applied to Kurt Wallander himself.  At 60, with a new granddaughter, he spends a great deal of time looking back at life and his relationships -- with Linda, his ex-wife Mona, his father, his co-workers and old friends, often with regrets, sometimes with questions about what might have been.  But more importantly, he's got another cause for concern: lapses in his memory that begin to worry him, especially as he reflects on his father.

I've loved this series from its beginning, and although I've  liked some books better than others, it's always been consistent even up to this last installment.  Wallander remains the same old gloomy Gus he's always been, deeply involved in whatever case he takes on to the detriment of his health and sometimes his family.  This is a much more morose Wallander in The Troubled Man, but he's still working hard to solve the mystery of the two disappearances.  Unlike most of the other books, however, there's a lot of detail here that tends to bog things down sometimes -- mostly involving Swedish Cold War politics, NATO, the US Government -- that can get a bit tedious after a while.  Not that it's not important to the story...it's just a bit overdone. And Mankell's novels (like those of many author Scandinavian authors)  all have a message to be conveyed dealing with politics or social issues -- that also is the case here.  But what really made this book for me unlike the others in the series  was not so much the mystery or the detective work (both of which are well plotted, by the way), but this time it was Wallander himself. Seasoned Mankell veterans who've followed the series book by book will notice through Wallander's reflections and other devices little reminders of the other Wallander stories scattered throughout, all the more poignant now that this is the last of them.

You don't need to read them all in order, but why wouldn't you? Especially given that this is the last of one of the best crime fiction series out there, wouldn't you want Wallander's entire history before opening this final book?  As Mankell is telling his readers in this story, there are just some things you need to figure out for yourselves, but as for me,  I'm happy I read each one book by book.

Thanks to  Henning Mankell (like he'll ever see this, but what the heck) for the number of hours throughout my life I've had my nose buried in a Wallander novel  -- I've loved every second.


  1. Perhaps it is not inevitable that we have to say goodbye to a character, but it is probably a good idea for modern writers to begin a new series once in a while.

  2. A heartbreaking end. I hated Mankell for not giving him a happy ever after

  3. Gail: Perhaps, but on the other hand, life is not always happily ever after. I think I must be among the few readers who don't really need a happy ending, nor do I mind if an ending tends to be vague or left to the reader. I know I'm definitely in the minority!

    Thanks so very much for your comment!


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