The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell: A review

This was the second book in Henning Mankell's series of police procedurals featuring the dour Swedish detective inspector Kurl Wallander.

It starts with two men on a boat. They encounter a red, unmarked life raft, adrift on the sea. Coming nearer, they see that there are two men in the raft - two very dead men.

The two live men are returning to Sweden after delivering smuggled goods to their East German contacts. They can't afford to call attention to themselves by reporting the raft and the bodies so they decide to tow it closer to the coast where the tide will take it in to be discovered. Soon, the report of the finding of the two dead men comes to police inspector Kurt Wallander and the investigation begins.

The first thing to be ascertained is who the men are and where they came from. Dental forensic analysis soon points to an Eastern European country as their point of origin, but there is no identifying information on the bodies or on the raft itself.

After inquiries through Interpol and other police agencies, it appears likely that the men came from Latvia, and a Latvian detective, Major Liepa, soon arrives on the scene to assist Wallander with the investigation. Still, the investigators make little progress. They have no scene of crime. It seems possible, even likely, that the torture and murder of the two men took place in Latvia and so the investigation is turned over to Major Liepa and the Latvian police.

Liepa returns home with the bodies and Wallander is very glad to wash his hands of the case, but soon after he arrives back in Latvia, Liepa, too, is murdered and the police there request Wallander to come over and help them with their inquiries. Curiouser and curiouser. It is in Latvia that the rest of the story unfolds.

This story seemed a bit dated to me, possibly because it took place in 1991-92 and so much has changed in Eastern Europe since that time. The language of this book did not seem quite so stilted as that of the first book. A new translator made the difference. But the last third of the book really began to drag for me. I had solved the mystery before Wallander which was satisfying in one way, irritating in another.

I do find Wallander quite a fascinating character with his unhealthy lifestyle and his unheroic loner's personality. He seems to be headed for a major illness if he doesn't mend his ways. He also seems doomed to a life of loneliness as he is unable to make connections with other people. In this book, he falls immediately in love with Major Liepa's widow, but will anything ever come of that? Will he ever even be able to express his longing for her? It seems doubtful. All of us socially awkward people can certainly relate to the way he feels. He endears himself to us by his very uncoolness.


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