Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Fifth Woman, by Henning Mankell (trade $13.95)

I sporadically pick up a Mankell book to read, but not necessarily in series order. (Gasp!) So, one fine winter day, I picked up The Fifth Woman, the sixth book in a (so far) eight book series about Swedish police detective Kurt Wallander. Although it was released in 1996 in Sweden, it was not translated into English until 2000. As a matter of fact, for a while there, the translated works did not follow the series order, but at this point all have been translated into English. For fans of Sjowall & Wahloo, Mankell is a worthy successor.

Although the weather of Skane in southern Sweden resembles Portland's, I invariably come away from reading a Swedish novel with the impression that all is dark, dreary, cold, and wet, wet, wet. Wait, how is that different from Portland? (Just joking -- can you tell I'm writing this on a dark, dreary, cold, wet Portland winter's day?)

Wallander has angst to spare, and some of the novels revolve around his fretting about past events and how he could have changed them. The novels are meaty, in a detailed, atmospheric way. Nevertheless, I confess to sometimes thinking of the word, "plodding," but only briefly and with great reverence for Mankell's writing skills. For those of us who do not live in Sweden, we can still experience the full flavor of Swedish life, albeit from a dark, murder-filled vantage point.

As a bonus, there is a supporting cast that is not comprised of mere throwaway characters. In many instances, they are smarter than our hero.

Here's a curious aside: On several occasions, a group of detectives sit around for hours at a time to discuss and mull over the case at headquarters. I can't believe that in the US of A our detectives do anything similar. It seems such a luxurious expenditure of time to do that.

Mankell begins his books with weird, otherworldly scenes of murder, and his criminals have such interesting psychological abnormalities. In contrast, Wallander and his colleagues have some normal, intimate concerns. We can apprehend their humanity and empathize with their personal problems.

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