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Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

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Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

Why hadn’t I read Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell until now? I don’t have a good answer. The Kurt Wallander Mystery series has been recommended to me time and again, and we had sold this series steadily for several years. So, looking for a book for a day of sitting in airports and a long plane trip I took it along (with a backup book in my bag) and hoped for the best. I didn’t need the backup book!

Faceless Killers is one of the best mystery novels I’ve read. And Henning Mankell’s detective Kurt Wallander is a guy I want to read more about. He is separated from his wife, has a troubled teenage daughter – and listens to Maria Callas. He seems like a nice guy.

Mankell says that “At the age of six my grandmother taught me to read and write and for me that was a profound experience. I can still remember the miraculous feeling of writing a sentence, then more sentences, telling a story. The first thing I wrote was a one-page summary of Robinson Crusoe and I am so sorry I do not have it any more; it was at that moment I became an author.”

Mankell grew up in Sweden, and lived in the small town of Ystad in the county of Skåne on the southernmost tip of Sweden during the 1980’s. This is where he has set his Wallander novels and where he still owns a farm outside the town.

We meet Kurt Wallander when he is called out to investigate the murder of an elderly couple on an isolated country farm. A farmer woke early in the morning – sensing that something was wrong because he did not hear his neighbours horse whinny in the night. He discovers his neighbour tied up and brutally murdered, and his wife barely clinging to life. Just before dying the wife says words that sound like “foreigners”.

Ystad is the location of a refugee containment area – the new EU has meant that refugees – some in real danger in their homelands, and some not – have flooded into Scandinavia and other north-western European countries in search of a better life. There is an atmosphere of distrust, and anti-refugee sentiment in Ystad.

Henning Mankell has deep personal concerns about this situation, and so does Kurt Wallander. Mankell says, “I had been away from Sweden for some time. When I returned I became aware that racism was exploding and I decided to write about that. To me racism is a crime, and I thought: Ok, I'll use the crime story. Then I realized I needed a police officer, and I picked the name Wallander out of the telephone directory.”

This novel asks some uncomfortable questions as the murder is investigated. And the investigation is a slow and difficult one. It appears that the murdered farmer may have had a son by an unknown woman and there are many to be interviewed.

“Every time Wallander stepped into someone’s home, he felt as though he were looking at the front cover of a book that he had just bought. The flat, the furniture, the pictures on the walls, and the smells were the title. Now he had to start reading.”

The novel was an immediate national success, claiming several awards, when it was published in 1997.

Mankell has continued the Kurt Wallander series while also writing plays, and other novels set in Africa. He now lives a great part of his life in Africa, saying, “ I don't know why but when I got off the plane in Africa, I had a curious feeling of coming home.”

Henning Mankell recently did a Canada and US book tour to promote his most recent novel The Man from Beijing, number one on the Canadian bestseller list for several weeks in a row now. I’ve got the whole series to read before I get to this new one - now that I have met Kurt Wallander, like fans everywhere, I’m ready to keep reading.


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