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The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell

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Going to Bed with Kurt Wallander - The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell

I’ve been going to bed Kurt Wallander this summer – I’m spending time on the dock with him as well, and in the porch – every minute I can get away from friends and family at the cottage. I’m not the only one - there are a lot of readers working their way through this series, one we’ve been recommending this summer.

Written in 1992 – translated to English in 2001, the second in the seriesThe Dogs of Riga by Swedish novelist Henning Mankell seems a bit of a period piece today. The Berlin Wall has come down and Russian control of Eastern Europe is crumbling. In the Baltic States things are rapidly changing – not always for the better. There is corruption and violence on the streets, and people are living in poverty and fear.

When two bodies wash up on the coast of Sweden – two men found murdered in a life raft – Detective Kurt Wallander is drawn into a case that turns out to be deadly for more than one of those involved. I’m not giving much away to say that Wallander survives – barely – to take his place is subsequent novels in this mystery series.

Swedes are only just beginning to realize that the collapse of communist Eastern Europe is going to have an effect on life in their own country, as those fleeing the former USSR are seeking a better life in a more westernized country. It appears that the men in the life raft were Latvian and a policeman is sent to Sweden to consult with Wallander. Missing a fellow police officer, who died recently, Wallander is struggling to work on this case independently, without the advice and assistance of his mentor. In spite of some language difficulties, there is respect and a shared professionalism between Wallander and the Latvian, Major Liepa. They enjoy working together and it is with regret that Wallander parts from Major Liepa on his return to Latvia where he will carry on the investigation in his own country.

Wallander is to follow and work with Major Liepa in Latvia – the first time that Wallander has traveled to Eastern Europe. He finds himself booked into an almost deserted hotel, obviously shadowed by unknown men. Always chauffeured by a police driver – as a way of keeping Wallander in sight – and in control, all of the time.

The death – murder, Wallander suspects – of Major Liepa changes things completely for Wallander. He is less concerned with the unknown men in the life raft than he is about the death of his friend. Meeting Major Liepa’s wife and confidant, Baiba, Wallander finds himself entering territory that is rapidly becoming out of control – both politically and personally.

It becomes apparent to Wallander that Major Liepa must have been betrayed by a member of his own police force, but it is almost impossible to guess – or to prove – who that might have been. Wallander finds himself without any police support in a country where he cannot speak the language, does not know his way around, and is under constant surveillance by those who would be happy to see him dead.

This novel is closer to a suspense thriller than it is to a traditional procedural mystery story. Even knowing that Wallander must survive it is nerve wracking as it seems more often than not that he will not escape from this novel with his life.

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