Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell: A review

In Kurt Wallander, Henning Mankell has created a seriously flawed but ultimately sympathetic character. This book, published in Swedish in 1991 and in English in 1997, is the first in the series featuring Wallander and I will be interested to see how the character changed and grew as the series progressed.

Wallander is a police inspecter in Ystad, Sweden, and in this introductory book, he has a particularly violent and seemingly senseless crime to solve. An elderly couple have been brutally murdered in a remote farmhouse. Before she died, the woman uttered the word "Foreigner." Is that a clue to the identity of the killer or killers or was it just a meaningless sound from a dying and delerious woman?

The murders occur on a cold night in January and the bleak cold of the Swedish wintry landscape permeates the story.

Wallander assembles his team and they begin to work the case, but soon they are distracted by another murder. Information about the dying woman's final word has leaked, and then a Somali refugee is murdered, seemingly at random, after anonymous phone calls that there will be retribution for the murders of the two elderly Swedes. It seems that there is strong anti-immigrant sentiment in Sweden and the refugee's murder may have had its origins in a Nazi faction within the country. But is it in any way related to the first murders?

Wallander and his team work doggedly to solve both crimes while Wallander himself struggles with a series of personal calamities. His wife has left him and wants a divorce. His daughter is estranged. His elderly father is very confused, perhaps the beginnings of senility, and he must find some way to care for him. Meantime, he finds himself attracted to a beautiful (married) prosecutor who will be responsible for handling the cases of the murderers - if the police ever manage to arrest them. Wallander makes a total ass of himself in his early dealings with the woman and must find a way to make amends if he ever hopes to have the relationship blossom into anything.

I don't read Swedish and so I had to read this book in translation. I found the language a bit stilted and awkward and occasionally off-putting. I suspect if I could have read it in Swedish, it would have been a much more graceful reading experience. Still, it kept my interest and I do look forward to reading more in the series.


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