31 October 2007

Dirty cops international

Awhile back, I wrote about the Gnod web site that illustrates what authors are being read by people who are reading an author you're interested in.

One of the names that showed up when I typed in a couple of the Scandinavian authors from last spring was Henning Mankell. I'd never heard of this Swedish writer, but he's well known. The Northfield Library has half a dozen of his books on its shelves. Several of his "Kurt Wallander Mystery" novels have been produced for Swedish television.

I picked The Dogs of Riga from the library collection. It was the earliest of Mankell's books available, published in Sweden as Hundarna I Riga in 1992 and published in English in 2001.

Kurt Wallander is a middle-aged police detective in Ystad, a city of over 17,000 on the southern Swedish coast. The town promotes itself as a tourist destination ("considered one of the best preserved cities in the Scania province") and as the home of the fictional detective.

At the time of this story, Wallander's mentor had recently died. But the old guy's wisdom plays through Wallander's mind throughout the book. I thought several times that it was too bad that Wallander hadn't asked about that wisdom more often. The detective's daring-do may make good adventure and good film, but his decisions make me question his basic sanity. Well, that's me.

Wallander ends up in Latvia investigating the murder of two men whose bodies come ashore in Sweden. Why Wallander goes there is never well explained. After all, a Latvian cop came to Ystad to retreive the bodies and gather police reports.

Then, even more inexplicably, Wallander returns surreptitiously to Riga with a phoney passport supplied by an underground Latvian nationalist group. Did I mention that the story is set in the early 1990s as the Soviet Union was falling apart? Riga and its police force was full of nationalists, Soviet supporters, smugglers, and organized criminals. And into this mess steps a curiously naive, foolhardy, and hardboiled Swedish detective.

The plot and its twists are intriguing. The action is well done. The setting is exotic. But it wasn't a great book.

It's not a total bust. I read the whole thing without complaint. I've even checked out two more Mankell mysteries from the library. I guess I think there's potential for entertaining stories.

If you know about Mankell's books or if you read one in the future, write and let us know what you think. If or when I read the Kurt Wallander mystery and the Linda Wallander mystery that I've checked out from the library, I'll let you know what I think.

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