Henning Mankell, “Faceless Killers” (1991) (translated from the Swedish by Steven Murray) – Well, SPOILER ALERT, the killers are indeed faceless. Ciphers, flotsam from the fall of the Iron Curtain washed up on Sweden’s all-too-welcoming shores. I understand Mankell was a leftie — was on the Gaza flotilla that got shot up by the IDF, for instance — but this book seems pretty critical of Sweden’s lax border policies. Maybe that’s just an indication of how well Mankell gets into the mindspace of his cop protagonist, Kurt Wallander, in this first of several Wallander mysteries.
But there’s an extent to which everyone is faceless, here. Life in Sweden as depicted in this book (and, to my understanding, the burgeoning Scandinavian crime fiction scene) as social democratic purgatory, but without the dynamic element purgatory usually has. Everyone is bored and boring and kind of sad. The only thing that distinguishes Wallander is that he likes opera- that’s his only character trait that distinguishes him from the “lonely divorced murder police” archetype (and come to think of it, I don’t think he’s the only one of those with a yen for classical music). Only cruel death and the threat of sectional (immigrant vs native) violence seems to wake anyone up from their daily rounds of unsatisfying, unpunished vices (gambling, philandering) and jobs.
In keeping with the overall tone, this book is deeply procedural except in a few flashes of action. There’s a good half-dozen cops involved in the investigation but they’re pretty much all indistinguishable except for Rydberg (who’s old) and Wallander (who’s the protagonist). That seems accurate and as someone who likes overstuffed fictional universes I relate to the impulse, but if I was supposed to think of them as anything other than Scandinavian names, I failed that test.
Maybe it’s just politics but I was more interested in the B case: an immigrant ambushed and killed in revenge for the A case, a brutal murder of an old farm couple where signs point to foreign killers. I don’t think it’s politics, though- I think the B case was better structured. The A case only comes together due to nearly-blind chance near the end of the book, almost a deus ex machina. There’s much more satisfying detecting in the B case. In all, this was a fast read, good not great, but I hear the Wallander mysteries get better as they go on. I’ll pick up the next one if I see it on a free shelf, like this one. ***