Thursday, July 14, 2005

Book Number 27

The Dogs Of Riga (1992) by Henning Mankell


This is the fourth mystery novel by Henning Mankell that I have read. He has written 9 books who feature Detective Kurt Wallander of Ystad, Sweden,a small town outside of Malmö in the southern province of Skåne. This book is the second in the series.

Wallander is called out one night to where a small raft has been washed ashore and contains the bodies of two well dressed men. The mystery spirals into an international plot when he is joined in Sweden by a Latvian detective who is murdered. Wallander travels to Riga to help in their investigation and is drawn into a larger conspiracy.

Compared to the others that I have read, this novel is fairly weak. Much of the book is set in Riga, Latvia just after the Soviet breakup. Mankell writes in an afterword that he was unfamiliar with that milieu and it shows. This book (and his others) are tightest when his investigations remain in Sweden.

Mankell is one of the mystery authors that I have only recently started reading. Vintage Crime/Black Lizard publishing have put out a nice set of translations that have only become widely available in the past couple of years. These stories are pure police procedural and are heavily influenced by the British school of procedurals (e.g. PD James, Ngaio Marsh, Colin Dexter or Ian Rankin). They are, however, unique (Swedish?) in their pacing and content. Mankell's Wallander probably resembles Rankin's Rebus the most where we have an older detective, single, dysfunctional family relationships, works with his own rule set. Wallander, on the other hand, has few vices and internalizes a lot. So we get to read about much of his thought process as he plods along towards his suspect.

I don't think his style of books are for everyone but they are worth trying. And you may just come to like the staid Wallander as I do.

1 comment:

Andrew J said...

I enjoy both the Rebus and Wallander series. There are strong similarities despite the very different settings: big city Edinburgh (not at all like the tourist images) and a small town in a rural and seemingly isolated part of Sweden. Yet it is the Swedish stories which portray the more violent, dysfunctional and anti-social events and touch on bigger themes. The mystery element in the plotting is stronger in Wallander but Rebus gives me a stronger sense of realism. Inevitably this type of book requires some suspension of disbelief but both series have become a little too formulaic. Rebus tangling with the big time crook Macafferty and reliant on his sergeant Siobhan. Wallander investigating large crimes with a handful of assistants and reliant on the forensic input from Nyberg. Well worth reading. There are a number of Scandanavian detective stories appearing in translation perhaps because of the success of Wallander. It may be a deliberate policy by publishers that many of these are police procedurals of the same kind.