Thursday, May 05, 2011

THE TROUBLED MAN: HENNING MANKELL


The Troubled Man is the tenth and last book in the Kurt Wallander series by Swedish author, and political activist Henning Mankell.
I have read five other books from this series; Faceless Killers, The Fifth Woman, Sidetracked, and One Step Behind, all a few years ago before I started Crime Scraps.

Kurt Wallander has moved from his apartment in Ystad to a house in the country near where his father used to live. He has got himself a dog, Jussi, and now aged 60 his career as police officer seems to be winding down. He is given only fairly routine cases while seemingly only remaining in contact with his old colleague Martinsson.
Then his daughter Linda, also a police officer, announces she is pregnant with his first grandchild. She is engaged to financier Hans von Enke, whose father Hakan von Enke, is a retired former high ranking officer in the Swedish submarine service.

'Hans said his parents had a philosophy about money,' Linda had explained.
'" You shouldn't talk about money, it should be simply there."'
'If only,' Wallander had said. 'That sounds like something well-heeled upper-class folk would say.'

Wallander, Hakan and Louise von Enke all delight in the birth of a granddaughter named Klara. But at his 75th birthday party Hakan von Enke begins to confide in Wallander about an incident during the Cold War, when the navy supposedly had a Soviet submarine trapped in Swedish territorial waters, and orders from above allowed it to escape.
Shortly after the party Hakan von Enke goes missing and Wallander takes some holiday to conduct an unofficial investigation that will uncover von Enke family secrets, and the confusion at the heart of Sweden's neutrality. Wallander's bleak personal odyssey is brought into focus with appearances by his drunken ex-wife Mona, and Baiba Liepa, the Latvian woman, who he regards as his one true love. [From The Dogs of Riga]
The feisty Linda, and her lively baby daughter Klara, are the only bright positives in this story as Wallander interviews one elderly person after the other; people whose best years are long behind them. Wallander troubled by repeated episodes of memory loss appears much older than his 60 years, and this gives the distinct impression that Mankell is bored with his character.

Is The Troubled Man too depressing for an old man to read?
Answer-definitely yes.
If The Troubled Man was simply the story of a man thinking back over his life with a plethora of regrets about the past it might be regarded as a fine but very bleak novel. But as a crime story the plot is rather thin and the solution is.............
Not a surprise considering the well known longstanding political affiliations of the author.
This a dark story of memory loss, depression, diabetes, cancer, drunkenness, lost past loves, and death. Without Linda or Klara what a total misery it would be.
I used to like the slow methodical build up in the Wallander books, but this one is almost catatonic and far too miserable for me to have enjoyed reading. It made even Leif G.W.Persson's Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End seem fast paced and lively.
That said, The Troubled Man could well be shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger, and that is the reason I persevered to the depressing finale.

She also made sure he bought a new dark suit, accompanied him to the tailor's in Malmo, and when he expressed his astonishment at the price she explained that it was a high-quality suit that would last him the rest of his life.

'You'll be attending fewer weddings,' Linda said. ' But at your age, the number of funerals increases.'


A negative view of The Troubled Man in The Guardian I have tried to be a bit fairer than this article in my comments.

11 Comments:

Blogger Margot Kinberg said...

Norman - Thanks so much for your fine and thoughtful review. You make some interesting comments about the pacing and timing that I hadn't thought of until I read your review. As you say, I wouldn't be surprised if this one is shortlisted. It'll be very interesting to see what happens with it...

7:43 AM  
Blogger Jose Ignacio Escribano said...

I fully agree with you Norman.

8:44 AM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Though Mankell has many qualities, I have always found his stories rather bleak, and I am not at all sure I´ll read this one.

11:14 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Margot- Maxine has made an intelligent prediction of the CWA International Dagger shortlist over at Petrona. She has read many more of the eligible titles than I have so I am banking on reading her list over the next two weeks before the official announcement at Crime Fest.

Jose Ignacio- Thanks very much, living as I do with three women I am not used to anyone agreeing with me!

Dorte- Please don't let me put you off. Younger people will not be depressed by Mankell's obsession with death to the same extent as an old codger like me.

12:49 PM  
Blogger Maxine said...

Great review, Norman. Agreed, it's depressing, but also real - in the sense that people get old, and decline, and we don't very often read about this. I kept hoping that he was going to do something clever with the crime plot (which had a good build-up) but sadly he did not, really - in particular that climactic scene on the island was very disappointing.

I enjoyed the book, as I found it very real, and I did like Linda's character and actions. I suppose I identify with depressed characters! I did find the sections with Wallander's girlfriend and her subsequent actions pretty hard to read, though.

Thanks very much for your kind comments about my review and predicted shortlist. I suppose it is only a couple of weeks to wait now to see how accurate or inaccurate I was!

1:24 PM  
Blogger Karen Russell said...

Wow, that Guardian review was harsh! I haven't read the book but do think yours is more fair -- but then, you aren't trying to sell newspaper subscriptions. :D

I'm with Dorte: I'm probably not going to read this one. Your comment that Mankell seems bored with the character is the last nail in the coffin.

5:54 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Karen-Please don't be too influenced by my review as Maxine enjoyed the book, and she is a very good judge. I agree with Maxine's comment about the reality of people, especially men getting old and declining, but I have had a very bad few months, and The Troubled Man hit a nerve. I would much rather enjoy reading about Gerlof Davidsson a bright octogenarian in Johan Theorin's prize winning books.
I found it particularly disconcerting to read about Wallander, a mere 60 years old, falling apart in this most cruel way.

6:44 AM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Norman, I think you are much like me.

I am ever so pleased when I have ´sold´ a first-class mystery to my readers, but when I criticize something, I feel daunted as soon as I realize they also listen to my critique. But our readers are grown people, and if they have found out they share our taste to some extent, we´ll probably have to live with that - as long as we explain WHY we don´t like certain books.

6:52 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

MMM, great review. I may even be tempted into reading the book. I recently read "Kennedy's Brain" and decided that I would read no more Mankell because he seemed to have lost what I describe as "freshness". I was thinking about this when I recently revelled in Donna Leon's "Drawing Conclusions". I imagine she is a very wise person, whereas Mankell just seems jaded. I also read "Death on a Galician Shore" due to your review and thoroughly enjoyed that. Must be a translater to be aware of, like Stephen Sartarelli, who does Andrea CAmilleri's Montalbano series,which I also find wonderfully vibrant.

3:19 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Beth. I am pleased you enjoyed Galician Shore.
Is it that Mankell is jaded, or have I watched so much of Wallander on British TV [Lassgard, Henriksson and Branagh] that I feel the character has nothing more to offer.
I am not sure... I have Drawing Conclusions ready to start after reading the CWA International Dagger shortlist.

7:26 AM  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I confess I have not read the Wallender series, but I have seen it on tv, which was good.

I have only read "The Man from Beijing," which I really enjoyed, and will read more of Mankell's stand-alones.

I can't wait to read Leon's new book, and to see the Daggers' shortlist.

The problem over here across the pond is that most of the translated fiction eligible for the Daggers is not in our library system. Some (decades later) will eventually be, but not all and not now. So I have to bite the budgetary bullet and buy books from the Book Depository or wait. Not fun.

So I'll wait for the shortlist, see what's there and then try to obtain the books, while I choose from recommendations from here, and other highly-respected websites that review global crime fiction.

7:45 PM  

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