The Return of the Dancing Master, by Henning Mankell

by Peter

The Return of the Dancing Master by Mankell, very well translated by Laurie Thompson, is an extremely well written and suspenseful crime fiction book. Mankell is a master crime writer, and in this book he really shows it.

A retired policeman, Herbert Molin, is found brutally tortured and slaughtered in his home in Sveg, far north in Sweden. The police find strange footprints in The Return of the Dancing Master, by Henning Mankell blood in the living room. They indicate that somebody has been practicing the tango – the favorite dance of the victim – with the body.

One of Molin’s former colleagues from Borås, Stefan Lindman, a young police officer who has been diagnosed with mouth cancer and has some free time on his hands, decides to investigate the murder, and travels up to Sveg. It turns out to be a very strange case. There are no witnesses and no apparent motive. Neither do the police have any technical evidence. All they know is that somebody have attacked Molin’s house with tear gas, forced him out of the house, captured him, and killed him slowly and painfully. Somewhere, there must be a strong motive.

In Sveg, Lindman soon meets Giuseppe Larsson, who is in charge of the investigation. Eventually they discover that Molin left Sweden during WW2 to join with Hitler’s SS troops and harbored strong Nazi sentiments. There are strong reasons to believe that the murder has its explanation in Molin’s strange past, and that it may be an act of revenge.

Mankell also lets us meet the murderer – Aron Silberstein, a German Jew now living in Argentina. He has indeed killed Molin for revenge, but exactly why we do not learn until the end of the book.

Gradually the investigation uncovers a large network of neo-Nazis in Sweden. They seem to belong to an organization called the Strong Sweden Foundation. More and more plot revolves around the secret world of Nazis, both past and present.

The Return of the Dancing Master is a dark and intense book. It is a wonderful read. But even so, Mankell has written book with a sloppy plot, full of really improbable events – one after another. How likely is Lindman’s finding of the murderer’s camp? Or the murderer’s return to find the second murderer? Or Lindman’s find of Molin’s diary? And so on. Really, this is a thinly plotted book, where Mankell uses one unlikely twist after the other to move the investigation forward. However, because Henning Mankell is such a hugely talented writer he gets away with it, because he can spin a yarn and tell a tale in a way the entertains and fascinates.  So even though I view the plot as bad, I do not hesitate to recommend The Return of the Dancing Master. It is, simply, a great book!

Links to Henning Mankell’s books at amazon US, amazon UK, and amazon CAN.

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