The Troubled Man, by Henning Mankell
The Troubled Man is the first new Wallander novel in a decade, and quite possibly the final novel in Henning Mankell’s outstanding crime fiction series about the introverted and intriguing detective from Ystad,Sweden. The eleventh book in this bestselling series is every bit as good as the previous ten books. The return of Kurt Wallander, for his final case, has caused a sensation around the globe.
The action in The Troubled Man takes place many years after the end of the series (Before the Frost). We meet an older and worried Kurt Wallander. He now lives in a house by the sea with a dog as his company, and he spends a lot of his time pondering his life and the state of affairs in Ystad and Sweden. He feels tired and spent, and he is very worried about how his memory seems to be failing him more and more often.
Wallander’s daughter Linda is now married. The ageing detective has become a grandfather. And now he meets – for the first time – the family of Linda’s husband Hans von Enke. The meeting is strange and somewhat disconcerting. The older von Enke, Hans’ father Håkon, brings Kurt into his home office, he wants to talk to him, get to know him. He tells him a little about his past – as a submarine commander in the Swedish Navy. But he is a worried man, a troubled man:
"I'm a worried man," Håkan said. "I was a submarine commander during the Cold War and I believe there were spies in the Swedish navy who have never been unmasked." "Whom do you suspect?" Wallander asked. "I cannot say right now because that would spoil the story." Wallander remained silent. He had the feeling Håkan had been trying to tell him something. But what?
Then, later, Håkan von Enke disappears mysteriously, without a trace. And even though Kurt Wallander is now out of active duty, he gets engaged in the case – he wants to help the widow and his son-in-law. However, soon the widow, Louise von Enke, disappears as well. Did Håkan von Enke know that something was going to happen to him; that the secrets from the past he knew and kept quiet about could somehow still be dangerous and cost him his life? What was he trying to tell Wallander that evening when they met and talked in von Enke’s office? What about the secret of the troubled man did Wallander not grasp?
As Wallander digs into the commander’s life and the mystery he alluded to, he learns about a Cold War scandal that was covered-up, but that could even so severely harm the current government. And Kurt Wallander still excels in deductive reasoning, is still as persistent as ever, and still has his intuition intact. His investigation takes him into dark and unexpected avenues involving espionage and betrayal , and as he gets closer to the solution of this intricate mystery, he finds deeply hidden secrets about prominent people in Sweden and uncovers facts about his son-in-law’s family that he would have preferred not to know.
The Troubled Man is a very fitting finale to a marvelous crime fiction series that has entertained the whole world and which continues to do so – both the books and the excellent Kurt Wallander TV series (both the original Swedish series and the new one by BBC) have a huge international following. Fans of Henning Mankell will probably, like me, feel sad that it is over, that this is the end of the series (I strongly believe it is), yet most likely also feel that the ending is just right and very befitting of the likeable and fascinating detective from Ystad.
I enjoyed The Troubled Man tremendously. It is a melancholy novel, at times sad, but also graceful, entertaining and excellently told. The book held me, captivated me, and on reflection feels like a deep, well thought-out study that perhaps more than any other book in the series lets us into the character of Wallander. If there ever was a crime fiction “must read”, this must be it. It is a crowning achievement by Henning Mankell, and a wonderful “adieu” to Kurt Wallander.
Italian Shoes, by Henning Mankell
This is not a crime fiction book, and not about Kurt Wallander. Italian Shoes is a novel – a book describing a voyage deep into the soul of an elderly man. Sixty-six-year-old Frederick Welin has been a surgeon. For the past 12 years he has lived alone in his little cottage on an isolated island outside Stockholm. His stay on the island is a self-imposed exile. He was guilty, and this is what he deserves; the punishment he has prescribed for himself. But why is he hiding? Will he ever be able to return from exile?
One day, in January, one cold, bleak mid-winter day, a lone figure is slowly coming towards him out there on the ice, an old lady on a walker. When she is close enough, he recognizes Harriet Hörnfeldt, the woman he had loved intensely in the summer of 1966 and then abandoned – 30 years ago. Finally she has tracked him down.
Now Harriet is dying of cancer. Ever since he left her, she has loved and hated him. The reason for her visit is that she wants Frederick to honor the beautiful promise he once made her – to take her to a pool deep in the forests of northern Sweden; to a place where he once, as a child, spent a wonderful day with his father.
This is the start of a long journey through the Swedish winter and, at the same time, deep into old, almost forgotten, perhaps even repressed memories of events far in the past and of love, intimacy and betrayal. The journey is strenuous and eventful – with accidents and problems, and with the past moving forward into the present. It provides him with an opportunity to take responsibility and face his past, to ponder who he really is, and forces him to recognize his own lack of consideration both for himself and for others.
Gradually Frederick realizes the extreme futility of his attempt to abandon himself and others. His questions about himself and his life get increasingly urgent: "Before I die," Fredrik says, "I must know why I've lived." But can he make up for what has been lost?
Italian Shoes is a wonderful novel, outstandingly translated by Laurie Thompson. Having read most of the books Henning Mankell has written, I consider this to be among his three best books, and I enjoyed it tremendously. It is tender and reminiscing, profoundly sad, and tells a rich story in a way that in many ways remind me of the writing of Norwegian author Per Petterson in his Out Stealing Horses. It is quietly told, yet rich in all manner of emotions. The story is one that will make you pause to reflect and consider. Italian Shoes is a deep, timeless, very impressive tale of redemption and renewal, about a man imprisoned by fear and pride.
Praise for Italian Shoes:
“a fine meditation on love and loss.” --Sunday Telegraph
“stark” -- Sunday Times
“Mankell carefully maps the changing seasons in beautifully stark prose” --FT