Introducing Kurt Wallender in Faceless Killers
Those who are not familiar with Swedish geography or have not read novels set in Sweden might be thrown off somewhat by the place and people names in Faceless Killers, Henning Mankell’s first Kurt Wallander mystery/thriller now re-issued in paperback (release date: January 25). Reading the first chapter or so is like reading an Ikea catalog (and we thought Ikea made those names up).
Faceless Killers is a police procedural, following the Ystad police as they try to solve a brutal crime—an elderly farmer bludgeoned and his wife left to die with a noose around her neck. It also follows the personal life of police inspector Wallender, who is frustrated by his relationships with his soon-to-be-ex-wife, doddering father, and estranged daughter. Sometimes Wallender’s personal life intrudes on his professional life, other times it’s the reverse.
The odd thing about the book is that the first 330 pages are about the first three weeks of the investigation. The final 39 pages detail events taking place over a period of seven months, including the solution to the mystery. Those anticlimactic final pages betray the rest of the story. The reader has invested so much time getting there, and then--in a few pages--it’s all wrapped up.
Despite the somewhat frustrating, that’s-it? ending, Faceless Killers is an enjoyable read, especially this time of year when so many of us are blanketed in January snow, as Kurt Wallender’s Sweden is described. With Mankell’s astute sense of place, snowbound readers nearly feel they are there.
Mankell has a fine hand with characters, and gives his readers complex personalities to gradually come to know and care about. The gripping first chapter sets the tone for Faceless Killers, a book that is not only about a murder case but also about racism, crime, and social conditions.
Notwithstanding my slight dissatisfaction with the wrap-up, I look forward to reading more in the Kurt Wallender series. The writing is sharp, the setting foreign but familiar, and the story-telling pleasurable.