The White Lioness by Henning Mankell
Many readers have been following the Kurt Wallander mystery series, along with me. In the third novel of this series, The White Lioness, Henning Mankell takes us to South Africa.
It helps to know something of the history of the time. Nelson Mandela has been released from prison, he becomes leader of the ANC. Mandela and South African President de Klerk establish a relationship, and are jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. It was a strained relationship however, in 1992 Mandela accused De Klerk’s government of complicity in the violent confrontations that took place that year. In April 1993 ANC leader Chris Hani was assassinated. Fearing more violence, Mandela spoke to his country “tonight I am reaching out to every single South African, black and white, from the very depths of my being. A white man, full of prejudice and hate, came to our country and committed a deed so foul that our whole nation now teeters on the brink of disaster. A white woman, of Afrikaner origin, risked her life so that we may know, and bring to justice, this assassin. The cold-blooded murder of Chris Hani has sent shock waves throughout the country and the world. ...Now is the time for all South Africans to stand together against those who, from any quarter, wish to destroy what Chris Hani gave his life for – the freedom of all of us".
A year later, in 1994 negotiations led the country to the first multi-racial elections. For black South Africans it was a time of hope.
The White Lioness begins in April 1992. A Swedish real estate agent is lost while looking for a house she plans to appraise for sale. She stumbles upon a building where we later learn a black South African assassin is being trained. She is killed and the mystery begins. There seems to be absolutely no reason for the murder of this woman and Wallander and his team cannot understand what has occurred. As Wallander stumbles around trying to figure out what is happening in Sweden, the reader follows the story of those planning an assassination that is to take place in South Africa – an assassination that those behind the plot hope will end the possibility of black South Africans to negotiate peace. These people do not want an end to Apartheid, they want to protect white rule at any cost.
Wallander is once again drawn into an international situation – a case that takes him out of his comfort zone as a policeman in a small Swedish town and into a world completely foreign. He knows he has discovered something that is a threat to someone – he becomes the target of an ex-KGB agent, and killer, who has been hired to train the assassin – but he has no idea why. When things begin to go wrong for the KGB agent and the assassin, Wallander finds himself – and his daughter – in peril.
This is only the third novel in the series – we get to know Wallander a little better, his personal story and that of his father and daughter progress for the reader. Wallander once again finds himself in a situation that we fear he will not survive, although we have the comfort of knowing that he must since there are so many more books in the series.
Mystery novels set in Sweden are finding a new audience since the phenomenal success of “the girl who” novels by Steig Larrson. All things Swedish are hot these days in the mystery genre, and The Kurt Wallander series has found a new audience. Henning Mankell’s success for me lies in the fact that he writes a very suspenseful, tight mystery novel with enough political and historical background to satisfy my desire to learn something from my reading. The White Lioness satisfies in every way.