After reading most of the Wallander books and watching the Swedish and British TV series, DOUGLAS MITCHELL was looking forward to reading what has been described as "Wallander’s final case". So what’s his verdict on The Troubled Man?
It’s been 22 years since Wallander first made his appearance in print and more than a decade since the last novel in the series.
The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell starts with the disappearance during his daily walk of a Swedish navy officer, Håkan von Enke, who also happens to be the father-in-law of Wallander’s daughter Linda.
Is Mankell on the wane?
The ageing detective – who may be losing his memory – is then drawn into a Cold War mystery which could become the biggest spy scandal in Swedish history.
The book departs from Wallander’s previously harrowing plots, which included human spare-part surgery and child trafficking. To Mankell, and perhaps to Swedes in general, there remains a legacy of disgust over the Cold War shenanigans, but my own personal reaction tends to be ‘who cares’?
The narrative lacks the pace and detail of previous Wallanders, perhaps raising questions about whether 63-year-old Mankell’s literary powers are waning. I was reminded of the decline of Harold Robbins, from his controversial and groundbreaking novel, The Carpetbaggers, written with verve and punch, to his later works which read almost like disconnected short stories printed in large typefaces.
In Mankell’s latest novel, I found myself irritated at some unnecessary padding when a proper descriptive passage would have served better to keep the reader hooked and the narrative on track.
Riddle in the title?
Perhaps the problem lies in the title itself – who is the troubled man? Is it Wallander, finding himself sliding towards that most awful disease, Alzheimer’s? Or is it von Enke, troubled that the Swedish state won’t see the Red Menace for what it really is? Or could it even be Mankell himself, finding it difficult to come to terms with growing older?
Having had personal experience of watching someone disintegrate through Alzheimer’s, I found Mankell’s descriptions of Wallander’s blank patches and journey towards senility didn’t quite ring true. It was almost as though the Scandinavian crime writer had decided to finish Wallander off, and every so often would remember to include an incident that would help him get to that point.
Nonetheless, The Troubled Man does offer some flashes of Mankell’s best writing. One Swedish critic has suggested that Mankell wrote parts of this book some time ago, and more recently filled in some gaps to complete the narrative.
There’s certainly that sort of feel to the book. The ending, for example, is extremely abrupt, and gives the impression that the author just couldn’t be bothered to write any more.
If you’re a Wallander and Mankell fan, none of these flaws are likely to deter you from reading The Troubled Man. But if you haven’t read him before, don’t start with this one – go back to the earlier Wallander novels.