Before the Frost & The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell
I am in mourning. I’ve said a sad farewell to Kurt Wallander after two summers of spending a great deal of time with this man. I held off reading the last two novels in Henning Mankell’s excellent mystery series until recently. Finally deciding I had to do it, I read Before the Frost, a Kurt and Linda Wallander novel, followed immediately by The Troubled Man.
Kurt Wallander came into my life in Henning Mankell’s first novel in this mystery series, The Faceless Killers, and over the past two years I have read the rest – knowing that The Troubled Man was to be the last.
Kurt is a divorced father of one child, his daughter Linda, who in the last novel became a parent herself. Linda also became a police officer and worked with her father on some of his cases. Kurt is both proud and concerned that Linda chose to follow in his footsteps.
Before the Frost begins with a prologue - Jamestown, November 1978 and the apocalyptic events that took place in Guyana among the cult following of James Warren Jones. 912 adults and 320 children were murdered in Jamestown. Out of all of these desperate, needy people, in Henning Mankell’s imagination one man survived. The reader knows that this man will surface again in the present day.
It is 2001 when the case begins – an escalating series of events involving first swans, and then a cow, burned, set on fire with gasoline by someone we can only suppose is mad. Wallander fears that the next victim will be human. Seeking a seemingly deranged person, Wallander knows that there is always a “logical” explanation for a seemingly “crazy” crime, and that when you “scrape the outermost layer of paint away, you’ll find colours underneath, other answers”, which of course Wallander does to solve this crime and discover its perpetrator.
The Troubled Man finds Kurt Wallander, in 2008, a little older, a little more tired. A careless mistake forces him to take a medical leave. But of course, there is a mystery to be solved. This time it is a case that involves the parents of the man with whom his daughter, Linda, has had a child. Linda is currently on maternity leave, and like her father, in spite of caring for an infant she is missing her work.
When Linda’s future father-in-law, Hakan von Enke, disappears his life is examined in an attempt to determine his whereabouts. His past, as an high ranking military officer is examined, and the days of the Cold War are the years in his life that appear to have caused his disappearance. Family secrets are exposed, much to the distress of Linda’s partner, and the part that von Enke’s wife may have played – or not – in his past might lead to the solution.
All the while Wallander is struggling with his own personal problems, and the circumstances of his ex-wife Mona, of whom he often thinks, “new love might replace an earlier love, but the old love is always there, no matter what”.
About to turn 60 years old, is Wallander has his own health problems, already afraid of his own death. The re-appearance of another love, Baiba, also provides complications. These are days of contemplation for Wallander, about his role as a father, and his influence on his daughter as she questions him about her childhood, and his marriage and separation from her mother. Becoming a grandfather has enriched his life, but has brought it’s own fears. The title of this novel, which seems to refer to Haken von Enke could as easily refer to Wallander himself.
I am certainly not going to reveal the conclusion to The Troubled Man, the last in the series. I am sorry to lose Wallander as a close companion, but really it is a consolation to know he isn’t really very far away, he sits on my bookshelf, in the pages, between the covers of Henning Mankell’s novels, and I can pick one up at any time and renew our relationship whenever I so desire.