The White Lioness by Henning Mankell: A review

Swedish Inspector Kurt Wallander is a real sad-sack. His interpersonal relationships are a mess, totally unsatisfying. He's middle-aged and overweight and his heart often races with the slightest bit of exercise, leading him to fear that he's having a heart attack. Perhaps worst of all, he's come to doubt that he is any good at his job. He seems indecisive and unable to find and follow up clues to their logical conclusion. He suffers from serious bouts of depression. His life seems to be going downhill fast.

Then, it gets worse.

The time is April 1992 and in peaceful, democratic Sweden, a female estate agent disappears. Her husband reports the disappearance to the police and Inspector Wallander is on the case. He feels, instinctively, that the woman will never be found alive, but he doggedly pursues the clues that he has. However, nothing seems to make any sense, and, finally, when her body is found and suddenly a house nearby explodes, the case gets murkier and murkier. There's something that just doesn't add up.

Wallander doesn't realize it but he has stumbled into a case with international implications. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela has just been released from his long imprisonment and is working with President De Klerk to try to bring about a transition to democracy in that troubled country. A stubborn clique within the country wants to prevent that at any cost, including political assassination. A connection with the former Soviet KGB, also at loose ends in this brave new world of the late 20th century, leads the political plotters to send their proposed assassin to Sweden for training. And there he witnesses the casual killing of an estate agent who happened to be in the wrong place as the wrong time.

The White Lioness, the third in the popular Inspector Wallander series,  is a complicated tale that switches back and forth between Sweden and South Africa and is told through several different voices. Henning Mankell always keeps the action moving forward, however, and manages to tie up all the loose ends at the satisfying conclusion.


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