This week’s reading:
A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett
Faceless Killers, Henning Mankell
The Dogs of Riga, Henning Mankell
Sidetracked, Henning Mankell
The White Lioness, Henning Mankell
The Fifth Woman, Henning Mankell
One Step Behind, Henning Mankell
Firewall, Henning Mankell
Before the Frost, Henning Mankell
The Return of the Dancing Master, Henning Mankell
So, this week’s reading is really two weeks’ worth; I didn’t get to read much during my finals (and while doing grading for my students), and I didn’t have time to post about the books last Friday.
I had to re-read A Little Princess after some of my friends started talking about it. I remember finding it unutterably charming as a child, and I wasn’t disappointed to return to it now. I still identify with brilliant, thoughtful, reserved, generous Sara Crewe, and with her love of books and stories and learning. I read it in one evening, curled up under a big blanket with my cat on my lap, and it was just perfect. Lovely.
The Henning Mankell books were a rather diametrically opposed experience. They’re dark, atmospheric police procedural thrillers set in southern Sweden, and weren’t really comforting at all. They were mostly terrific, though, even if they did sometimes skirt the bounds of plausibility. I love the way Mankell evokes the culture of Skane and the specifics of what it’s like to live as a Swedish policeman. His hero, Kurt Wallander, seems very real: he worries about his weight, does bone-head stupid things from time to time, and reacts realistically to situations from being kidnapped to having to shoot a man.
My only problem was that the series was a little unbelievable. No individual book was implausible (except perhaps Firewall, in which a gang of computer criminals plans to take down the World Bank - but it’s so charmingly written, from the point of view of computer-fearing Wallander, that it’s hard to take exception to it). As a series, though, it becomes increasingly difficult to believe that the smallish city of Ystad could really support the wide range of complicated crimes that Mankell narrates. A gang of international computer criminals, an assassination of a major world figure, a serial killer, a series of revenge killings - I’d believe any one, or even any two, but not all of them together.
The last two books (Before the Frost and The Return of the Dancing Master) feature Wallander’s daughter, Linda, and her boyfriend Stefan Lindman, respectively. I found the switch in perspective to be useful in restoring my faith in the plausibility of the narrative. By introducing new central characters, he gets to reset my “would all that really happen to just one person?” switch. Also, I was impressed with how subtly yet wholly he portrays these new central characters through their internal thoughts and through their speech.
So, I’d highly recommend the Mankell - just don’t read them all in a week like I did, and you should be fine!