Friday, 9 October 2015

Henning Mankell: 1948-2015

I am a determined fan of crime fiction.... of crime fiction in translation and... of course... of Scandinavian crime fiction. It is therefore a great sadness that Henning Mankell, creator of Swedish detective Kurt Wallander, has died at the age of 67.

Mankell, the reluctant crime writer, was my introduction to Scandinavian crime fiction. (Although to be strictly accurate, the first Nordic crime story I read... and it did knock me off my feet... was MISS SMILLA'S FEELING FOR SNOW by Danish writer Peter Hoeg. But Hoeg is not a crime writer, his books roam across a range of potential fiction genres.)

Mankell also wrote a wide range of books (fiction, plays, children's books) and stated that he only turned to crime so to speak as a means of writing about social issues. And I think this makes him one of the formative Scandinavian crime writers.... a school of crime fiction often marked by its strong roots in social and psychological issues rather than guns, shootin' and cliff-hanging suspense. Though, come to think of it, many Scandinavian crime writers do manage  the guns and suspense bit to good effect.

Henning Mankell gave me the luxury of a consistent series to follow and be rarely disappointed with when I discovered his books featuring a determined, middle-aged, policeman with less than winning ways.... Kurt Wallander. And not just me, judging by the evergreen success of the several film and television series based on a combination of this character and Mankell's plots. Wallander entered the heart of so many readers that quite a few found the final book of the series THE TROUBLED MAN hard to take.

I was writing a review of a "Wallander" novella, AN EVENT IN AUTUMN (Vintage, 2015), when the news broke that Mankell had died. Originally written for Dutch publication in 2004, the English translation has only just been published in paperback (hardback - last year). In it Mankell gives us a late-middle-aged Wallander, tired, looking back on his career but looking forward in his life... a house in the country and the company of a dog.... Of course the house he is thinking of buying turns out to have a surprise buried in the garden, a bony surprise. And so Wallander has another case to investigate. It's a short book but a beautifully written one and it comes with a final chapter in the form of an essay by Mankell on how Kurt Wallander came to be and his relationship with the character. For those left bereft by the loss of Kurt (with THE TROUBLED MAN) and of course by the death of Henning Mankell himself, I really recommend you search out this last short novella for a gentler good-bye.
You can read my full review of AN EVENT IN AUTUMN on the Euro Crime blog here.

No comments: