Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Faceless Killers

“Justice doesn't only mean that the people who commit crime are punished. It also means that we can never give up seeking the truth.” 

It is no secret that over the last few years Scandinavian crime fiction has skyrocketed in popularity worldwide.  Whether it is Stieg Larsson's wildly popular "Millenium" series or Camilla Lackberg's novels set in her hometown, many people are finding themselves caught up in these stories from the north.  Arguably the most influential writings in Scandinavian crime fiction are by Swedish author Henning Mankell.  His Kurt Wallander series is his most popular and contrasts brutal crimes and deep cultural problems against a pristine and seemingly peaceful landscape.

The Plot:

On a cold winter's night in a remote Swedish village, an elderly couple is brutally murdered in their home.  The horrible crime seems to be without reason, the only real clue being the last word heard from the dying wife's lips..."foreign".  Ystad Inspector Kurt Wallander soon discovers that this case soon has the potential to ignite anti-immigrant feelings in Sweden.

If that isn't enough, Wallanders personal life seems just as tangled and hopeless as this case.  He has fallen out of shape since his wife left him, his daughter has become estranged, his father is getting older and in need of more care, and he is finding himself attracted to the beautiful (but married) young prosecutor he just met.  As he throws himself into solving the murders, he wonders if he will have the strength to face it and all of his other problems.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

I had heard about the popularity of Scandinavian crime fiction but had never actually given it a try until now.  I don't read a lot of modern literature and so had never gotten around to it.  I found it much more interesting than I had originally thought it might be.

Kurt Wallander is different from all of the detectives in the other books I read over the summer.  He isn't brilliant, he doesn't have this amazing insight into human nature, and he's not an eccentric homebody with a helpful sidekick.  He is simply human.  He has problems outside of work that eat away at him.  He struggles to connect the dots in the case.  He has run-ins with his fellow officers, the press, and government agencies.  In short, he is just like anyone who might find himself in that positionIn this way, I think it makes his story the most real and easy to relate to.  This doesn't feel like a mystery story...it feels like a true crime solving saga where things don't always come easily or quickly.

I also found Mankell's use of current Swedish social problems in the story to be very interesting.  If you keep up with current European affairs, you will know that ideas like multiculturalism and immigration have become increasingly difficult.  Over the last 50 years or so there has been a huge increase in immigrants to the wealthier European nations, but not everybody is happy about it.  In Faceless Killers, Mankell not only touches on the subject, but also shows how complicated an issue it really is.  The Swedish couple is killed by two immigrants, but another immigrant is killed by a zealous Swede as well.  There is no easy solution for this problem as many nations are discovering.

I truly enjoyed this story.  It was refreshingly different from other stories I have read with a antihero detective and issues that strike a modern chord.  I will most likely be adding more Wallander stories to my reading list.

The Movie:

Over the last few years, the BBC has created a Wallandar series starring Kenneth Branagh as the inspector.  "Faceless Killers" is the first episode of the second season.  I haven't seen any of them yet, but I have heard favorable reviews and intend to watch them soon.                   

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