I decided that I would break one of my habits of a lifetime when I received, a few weeks early, a copy of ‘The Troubled Man’ by Henning Mankell … I read a series out of order. I am sure that everyone is well aware that ‘The Troubled Man’ is in fact the final Kurt Wallander case, a detective series which has taken the reading world by storm. I am not really a huge Wallander buff, in fact apart from having read the first Wallander novel ‘Faceless Killers’ (which I thought was very good) and seeing both the Swedish and UK adaptations I guess I am a Wallander novice so I was aware that going from the first of his cases to the last might not work. Yet after reading ‘Great House’ by Nicole Krauss I needed something that would be just as page turning and readable but maybe less involved. Little did I know that reading ‘The Troubled Man’ would have me deeply engrossed from the start, despite my initial ‘eek’ moment when I realised the book would have a lot of submarines in it. I don’t tend to do well with books based on boats or at sea it has to be said.
When you start reading ‘The Troubled Man’ you can almost instantly tell from its style and delivery that this is going to be the last of the Kurt Wallander novels. Not because the ending of it all is given away from the start, and fear not I shall not give anything away here either, but because Wallander seems incredibly reflective and nostalgic about his past and indeed his future. Initially this concerned me slightly. This wasn’t going to be a case of an author spinning out the final instalment using as many words and random tangents as possible was it? Not really, is the answer. What Mankell uses this for is to show us just where our protagonist is in his head and why he takes on a case that really doesn’t fall under his jurisdiction, though I could be wrong as I don’t know the ins and outs of Sweden’s legal system or its police procedures.
When Hakan von Enke suddenly vanishes on an April morning it is most out of character. However it is not a case which Wallander or his team are given and yet he gets himself embroiled in it all. This isn’t for professional reasons; in fact it’s all rather personal as his daughter Linda (now a police officer like her father) has met the man of her life, who happens to be Hakan von Enke’s son. This could seem rather intangible but having read ‘Faceless Killers’ and in the glimpses of back story we get we soon learn his and Linda’s relationship has not always been good. Here is a father who desperately wants to keep that relationship and help, and possibly protect his daughter.
As the mystery develops not only does Hakan’s wife Louise go missing, but a political secret starts to come to light from the past as well as some more personal family secrets the von Enke’s have been hiding. In fact these secrets from the past, which all evolves around the Cold War and Sweden’s part in it (based around submarines as Hakan von Enke was in the navy as a commander) becomes an additional strand to the novel and one that interested me far more than I would have expected it to.
I did think that ‘The Troubled Man’ could have done with a fair bit of editing. It seemed to go on with various sub-plots of crimes that Wallander sort of starts investigating, and then leaves in favour of this more personal case, seemed like padding. I also thought the characters slightly weaker, well lots of them vanished in fairness, in this novel. Wallander seemed fully built, if a bit solemn and self pitying (but then as the book goes on we see why), as did his daughter Linda, everyone else was a little more two dimensional, but maybe that is where me not having read all the series and previously followed all of the characters to this final dénouement comes into play. This is both a positive and a negative as it has made me want to go back and start again, but also disappointed me somewhat as I tend to think the best series are the ones you can pick up at any point. Even if normally I tend to read them in order.
Regardless of how good this book is or isn’t, and I did find myself hooked apart from the odd ten pages or so every so often, people will be buying ‘The Troubled Man’ in their droves. It’s not the thriller that I was expecting, in fact it’s darker and rather more depressing, than I had imagined but it is a solid crime novel. 7.5/10
This book was kindly sent by the publishers.
Will you be one of the many Wallander fans that will be devouring this novel instantly, if you haven’t already of course? Is there anyone out there who hasn’t read a Wallander novel yet, will you start at the end or the very beginning? Is anyoe not bothered about Wallander (you might find this review by The Guardian very funny, I sniggered)? I do feel like Wallander a little now, as I have the start of his story and the end of it, do I turn to the middle sections and discover more?