Henning Mankell, my hero and the man who wrote the novels that defined my university years, wrote a great many novels in a number of genres. There is the spectacular and atmospheric Italian Shoes, the emotional Chronicler of the Winds and even a series of children’s books. However, it is his series of novels featuring Kurt Wallander, the intelligent but angry protagonist with a dogged determination to find the truth that is the true star of his bibliography. These brilliant books formed the beginnings of the trend for Scandinavian crime fiction. So here’s my top five books guaranteed to get you addicted.
- The White Lioness: Drawing on Mankell’s love of Africa and political affiliations, The White Lioness is as a much a critique of politics of the early 1990s as it is a work of crime fiction. This novel is worth reading for its opening sequence alone- there is real depth to the depiction of the grieving family of the Estate Agent murdered after taking a wrong turning, and the dialogue between her family and the world weary Inspector Wallander is absolute perfection, highlighting the difficulty in understanding and fully empathising with another’s grief.
- The Dogs of Riga: When two dead Latvians wash up on a beach in Ystad the police from Riga sent a man to Sweden to assist with the investigation. Wallander, who took the case on following an anonymous tip off, works with him to gain an insight into the case, and in so doing learns a great deal about the Soviet Union and the devastation it wreaked on the countries it dominated. When the Latvian Major is killed on return to Riga Wallander is drawn to Latvia, where he finds corruption, deception and deceit.
- Faceless Killers: The very first novel to feature the dogged detective is a great place to start your journey into the murky life of Inspector Kurt Wallander. Inspired by the author’s desire to showcase Swedish racism and the issues around xenophobia that the country faced following relentless political turmoil, Mankell expertly combines social criticism with crime fiction in this gripping novel.
- The Man Who Smiled: A later outing for Wallander, this dark novel provides a perfect example of Mankell’s aptitude for creating complicated, conniving characters. The plot is thrilling and enticing, taking the reader on a fascinating journey. Wallander’s own personal trauma is entwined with the crime, providing an eye opening insight into the state of mind of the detective.
- The Pyramid: This collection of short stories, set before Faceless Killers, is a great start to your Wallander obsession, although it is also great for diehard plans, as it is packed with references to the later novels. Dark and twisted, the medium leaves less space for the lavish descriptions of Skåne that make the novels so spine-tinglingly chilling, but there is still the same social criticism, strong characterisation and deadpan dialogue that makes the all of Mankell’s writing so compelling.