An aging farmer and his wife have been attacked on their isolated farm. When Inspector Kurt Wallander of the Ystad police force arrives, he finds the elderly couple brutally tortured, the husband dead and the wife barely clinging to life. They appear to have little money and no enemies. The only clues are the dying word of the farmer’s wife: “foreign”, and some unusual ligature on a rope that has been used in the crime.
Since Faceless Killers is the first book in the Kurt Wallander series, readers are provided with some background information about the main characters. Kurt Wallander is gritty and determined, newly separated from his wife and somewhat estranged from his daughter. He often drinks too much, and he has problems dealing with the interim prosecutor, who is an attractive young woman sent down from Stockholm. Perhaps it is the fact that she is pretty that is bothersome? Also, he has a somewhat strange and remote relationship to his father, an ageing artist, who is showing the first signs of senility.
Henning Mankell lets the reader join in on the investigation process. There are no hidden clues as in Agatha Christie’s books. It is all systematical thinking, logical reasoning, hard work and lots of man hours. And, as it turns out, after the media have found out that the murders were carried out by “foreigners”, poor Wallander seems to spend almost as much time dealing with attacks by racists as with the crime itself. Even so, it is fascinating and exciting.
Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series has often been compared to the Martin Beck detective mysteries authored by the husband and wife team of Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall. Wallander, like Beck, is a police detective in Sweden. Unlike Beck, whose beat was Stockholm, Wallander works in the small southern Swedish city of Ystad. The Wallander series takes place in the 1990s while the Beck series took place in the 1960s and 1970s. While the Beck series may be richer, the Wallander books are entertaining page-turners. Mankell mostly stays well within the ‘police procedural’ formula and has not tried to reinvent the genre. He has developed the character of Mankell and his supporting cast of characters extremely well. Wallander gets results more by perspiration than inspiration. And, perhaps even more important – Henning Mankell, as opposed Sjowall & Wahloo, does not have a political agenda that drives his writing.
Henning Mankell is a talented writer equipped with a very keen sense of the psychological dimensions of his characters, and uses this to make his stories dynamic. In Faceless Killers he delivers a fast paced, very interesting and highly entertaining read. My main complaint is that it ends too soon.
You can read more about Henning Mankell and several of his books at Scandinavianbooks.com>