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Some Final Thoughts on Henning Mankell
October 8, 2015 -- Henning Mankell, one of the giants of the crime fiction genre, died of cancer on Monday (October 5) in his native Sweden. Business travelers, who doted on his novels to pass the time between flights and during delays, will certainly miss the 67-year-old scribe. As a frequent reader and reviewer of his work, I'll miss Mankell, too.
His name is virtually synonymous with his most famous creation, Kurt Wallander, the down-to-earth and troubled police inspector who's at the center of a series of 10 best-selling novels as well as highly regarded television series in both Swedish and English.
Considered one of the top tier of contemporary Nordic authors known for the detective genre along with Stieg Larsson (The Millennium trilogy) and Jo Nesbo (the Harry Hole series), Mankell also authored dozens of plays, children's books and other novels. But Mankell was far more than a successful and prolific writer.
Unbeknownst to many (including myself), he was a zealous political activist and humanist. A dedicated proponent of immigrants and the downtrodden in general, he funded--and founded--a number of charitable organizations and participated in various demonstrations for the causes he supported.
As a dedicated social activist, he was regarded by many as being strongly pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel for what he considered Israel's apartheid policies. His views were said to be informed by a great deal of time spent in Mozambique, a location which appears prominently in his fictional tome, A Treacherous Paradise. (I reviewed it just a few months ago.) Without going into any great detail on this subject, Mankell defended himself in a 2011 article published in Haaretz, Israel's oldest daily newspaper. He argued that open dialogue is the only real recourse to solve persistent problems such as those plaguing the Middle East.
An insightful glimpse of his controversial views regarding the chronic hostilities in the Middle East may be inferred from one of his novels, 2005's The Return of the Dancing Master. As I explained in a brief review earlier this year, a Holocaust survivor takes the ultimate revenge, albeit decades later, on the Nazi who had killed his father. There's no question that Mankell is even-handed if not sympathetic to the protagonists in this story.
Good assessments of Mankell's life and work appeared this week in The Guardian and The New York Times. Both provide an in-depth picture of this multi-dimensional personality. At his death, Mankell was married to his fourth wife, Eva, the daughter of famed movie director Ingmar Bergman.
Ironically, I had already decided to review another Mankell novel in this week's column. I see no reason why his untimely death should dampen our enthusiasm and enjoyment of this 2002 entry into the Wallander chronicles. So please read on ...
BEFORE THE FROST, AFTER THE DAUGHTER
In Before the Frost, Mankell throws a twist into Wallander's world. The aging, impatient, querulous inspector, the mainstay of a relatively small Swedish community, is joined for the first time by his daughter, Linda. Having recently graduated from a police academy, she is getting ready to join her father in the Ystad police force. She exhibits some of the same obdurate qualities as her father and decides to ignore some commonsense rules he has laid down. She gets involved in a suspenseful local mystery, which becomes more and more of a page turner as it accelerates.
Decidedly the dominant character in this story, Linda is drawn into a complex and dangerous situation even before officially donning her uniform. Before the Frost gets under way with the disappearance of Anna, one of Linda's best friends. She claims to have recently caught a glimpse of her father, who walked out on Anna's family 24 years ago.
At about the same time, some disturbing incidents--horrifying executions of local animals--hit the local headlines. Before these ritualistic murders begin to involve human victims, Linda's friend Anna reappears, spinning a story that may or may not be true. Then, as they say, the plot thickens.
Another one of Linda's friends, a single mother, goes missing. Like her father, Linda bypasses accepted police procedures and finds herself entangled in a web that may threaten her life. I won't go any deeper into the plot at this point, but I will mention that the 1978 Jonestown cult murders in Guyana play a role.
I might also mention that Linda, currently living with her father but getting ready to move out, has a fractious relationship, both at home and at the station house, with her hot-tempered dad.
One footnote: Stefan Lindman, who is "officially" introduced in the aforementioned 2005 Mankell work, The Return of the Dancing Master, makes an appearance in Before the Frost. He's obviously headed for a romantic involvement with Linda. At least in this book, Lindman is the opposite of the Wallanders. He's written as cool, detached and diffident and may possess a dry sense of humor.
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