Thursday, March 3, 2011

Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

Faceless Killers (Wallander #1)Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After recently seeing a view of the BBC productions of the Inspector Wallander Series on Masterpiece Mystery! on my local PBS station, I became intrigued by the plots and thought perhaps the books would read much better than the film, and perhaps I would understand the plot much better in the book (found parts of the story difficult to follow on TV).  I was not disappointed.

I borrowed Faceless Killers (Wallander #1) by Henning Mankell from my local library.  First clue that it was a decent read should have been there was a bit of a waiting list, but finally, my request came in.  I can't believe I haven't read this series sooner, especially given that I am a huge fan of mystery/detective fiction.  Perhaps I was intimidated by the fact that the story takes place in Sweden, a country with which I'm not familiar, but I needn't have worried.

Kurt Wallander is a jaded middle-aged detective, recently separated from his wife of many years, long estranged from his daughter, and trying to cope with his father's rapid decline into senility.

On a cold January morning, an elderly farming couple in the remote village of Lunnarp, Johannes and Maria Lovgren are brutality attacked.  Johannes is dead on the scene and Maria found barely clinging to life, tied to a chair with a noose around her neck. It soon becomes a case of double murder, and before her passing, Maria revives enough to whisper one word, "foreign".

It is the only clue the police have to go on, and a leak reveals to the press that the police are looking for a foreigner, which reveals tensions between the Swedish citizens and refugees seeking political asylum in Sweden.  Soon, refugees are being attacked - fires set, a Somali brutally gunned down.

There is evidence the knot in the noose is foreign but the crime feels personal to Wallander.  He soon learns that Johannes Lovgren was a wealthy man who made money selling horse meat to the Nazis with his father during WWII and that he made a large cash withdrawal just a couple days before his murder.  The cash is nowhere to be found, and it seems robbery was indeed the motive for this murder but who and how remain to be seen.  In addition, it is revealed that Lovgren kept a mistress who bore his child and that it is a tightly guarded secret but that he regularly spent more money on his mistress than his wife, keeping the fortune and investments he made during WWII a secret from his wife.

Wallander becomes obsessed with solving the crime before more random acts of violence erupt among the refugees and bring Sweden's anti-immigration activists to more violence.  The crime is dogged by dead ends, and at times, Wallander feels hopeless, but eventually, and with dogged determination, he is able to crack the case.

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