Just finished Henning Mankell’s The Troubled Man – the latest installment in the Kurt Wallander mysteries series that I wrote about earlier. I really enjoyed it.
There’s this funny dynamic in some detective stories where I sometimes get impatient during the story when the focus strays from the mystery itself – and into other ‘extraneous’ things like character development, other narratives, etc. The Troubled Man is one of the few detective novels that I can remember not wanting to go back to the mystery, because I was enjoying the characters. There’s a lot of great interactions between Wallander and his daughter Linda… who love each other but don’t always get along.
Here’s one conversation between father and daughter; it made me laugh and wince:
Linda laughed. She’s on edge, Wallander thought. They [Linda and her mother Mona who is KW’s ex-wife] probably argue a lot more than she wants me to know.
“According to Mona it was the other way around,” she said. “It was you who slammed the door and never apologized.”
“I thought we’d already agreed that Mona sometimes says things that aren’t true,” Wallander said.
“You do exactly the same. Neither of my parents is a thoroughly honest person.”
Wallander reacted angrily.
“Are you? Thoroughly honest?”
“No. But I’ve never claimed to be.”
“Get to the point!”
“Am I interrupting something?”
Wallander decided on the spur of the moment, not without a certain amount of pleasure, to tell a lie.
She saw through him right away.
“In the garden? I can hear birds singing.”
“I’m having a barbecue.”
“You hate barbecues.”
“You don’t know everything I hate and don’t hate. What is it you want to tell me?”
One minor flaw is that, in my opinion, Kurt and Linda Wallander are pretty much the only characters that are really fleshed out. This is one place where, for me, these books fall short of some of my other very favorite Swedish mysteries: the Martin Beck series by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö , which really do feature a team of police detectives, a half-dozen of whom are fairly fleshed out.
I do want to celebrate that Kurt Wallander himself is such a well-crafted character – plenty of books out there that don’t even have one good character! Wallander is smart, determined and a hero in his own right… but also deeply flawed. He’s forgetful, disheveled, a diabetic struggling to eat better and exercise more. He drinks more than he should. He puts things off until the last minute. He tells white lies all the time.
One of the most profound themes in The Troubled Man is Wallander facing getting old and dying. I am 48 years old, and my knees and my overall energy aren’t what they used to be. Yah… not as old as Wallander, who’s 60-something, but I found I could really relate with Wallander’s doubts and frustrations in aging. They’re peppered throughout the book.
Here’s a passage I did like and bookmark. In true Wallanderesque fashion, the extra bookmark, which I had carefully kept in place for a week or so, is missing… so I had to search through the middle third of the book twice to find this:
Wallander was just about to end the call when Ytterberg [another police detective who’s working on the novel’s main case] asked him a question.
“Do you ever feel like I do?” he asked. “An almost desperate longing to get away from all this shit that we’re chest-deep in?”
“How do we manage to survive it all?”
“I don’t know. Some sort of feeling of responsibility, I suspect. I once has a mentor, an old detective named Rydberg. That’s what he always used to say. It was a matter of responsibility, nothing more.”
[Wallander soon thereafter receives a grateful note from someone who he helped out on an earlier case.]
He turned the photo over and read what it said on the reverse side: “A reminder of our existence, and a thank-you for all the support you gave us during the most difficult period of our lives.
Just what I needed, Wallander thought. Proof that despite everything, what we do has significance for a lot of people. He pinned the photo up on the wall.
I think that this passage resonated with me, because lately I’ve been stressed and busy with work (collaborating to pull off another CicLAvia) – and sometimes I feel overwhelmed, disheveled… but now and then someone acknowledges that work I’ve done has inspired or helped someone, and then I remember that what I am doing is significant and worthwhile.
Anyhow… go read The Troubled Man.