The site for English-speaking fans of Henning Mankell’s detective series
featuring Kurt Wallander of Ystad, Sweden.
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An essay by Alejandro García Puig
Spanish version is also available

The narrative mastery or the triumph of sobriety
"One Step Behind": a new case of inspector Wallander for Spanish readers

According to the personal references on the book cover, Henning Mankell is a writer and a theatre director. From my point of view, he is an economist. A great economist of language who manages, as only can do a selected minority, the literary resources he owns, just some resources simple in appearance, but that thanks his extraordinary skills allow him to build stories in which anything else is needed or you can give no word up neither. Is not a situation like this an optimal allocation of resources according to economists?

There are good fiction literary stories which are easily surpassed by reality; other mirror real life in such a way that they appear a very fiction. Stories leaded by the famous police inspector in Ystad, Kurt Wallander, arrive to such a perfect balance that it becomes very hard that they can be surpassed by reality or fiction. When you finish a novel by Mankell, being characterized by coherence and logic from the beginning to the end, you wonder how it is possible that nobody could conceive something so logic before and how you are not able to write a similar work. Apart from talent and narrative skills are perhaps his great theatre direction gifts what can afford that the many actors which give life to his works have such a good performance and become themselves alive. Just from the rise to the fall of the curtain performance is always perfect.

Mankell has achieved to invent a beloved personage, so that I would be very disappointed if someone would try any time to persuade me that in the police station of that little town in Scania, situated in the far south area of Sweden, a police named Wallander has never worked there. Wallander is not a superman; it is hard to detect him any kind of displays; he is not able to suddenly solve the police cases through some unlikely deductions we find in other novels of the same genre; he can't avoid new crimes; he is a tormented person in his private life. He is just a good policeman. But to be a good policeman, an excellent professional who puts his work in front of the rest of things, sometimes carries high costs (economists say that everything has an opportunity cost), just as in real life. Wallander has not been a model husband, neither for fathers nor even for sons. He does not often feel either satisfied with his job. Idyllic, perfect things are out of the life of this policeman crossed by frequent personal crises.

All the books of Mankell grieve, sometimes in an explicit manner, for the tolerant, full employment, egalitarian, peaceful, crime and corruption free, traditional model of Swedish society... Things are not like they used to be before ... anywhere in the world. Mankell works come to be thus a reflection of social, economic and political changes we have witnessed along last decades, some changes that have even shaken some of the most solid foundations of the envied Swedish model of welfare state.

Another of the typical features of Mankell is to reveal soon to the readers the identity of criminals and the keys for their actions. Paradoxically that information do not decrease anyway the interest, just on the contrary, for the development of novel intrigue. This time, as usually, the reader knows some privileged information out of the realm of the police investigators, but to a much lesser extent than in other books. All of us have read some books that, according to advertisement, catch you from the first page. Certainly, but many of the novels achieve that effect thanks to any kind of tricks prepared to the reader, who eager for the final events consumes pages and pages. Not seldom when you arrive to the last page you feel that the book was built upon a decoy without a real content. You are completely free of that kind of risk with the novels of Mankell. The fair play usually followed by his main personage is absolutely respected by the author with respect to his readers.

In "One step behind", the seventh delivery for Spanish readers, Ystad policemen have to strive hard to disentangle the keys of the brutal murders of some young people who just aimed solitude and privacy while the celebration, in an environment of old times, of the northerly summer solstice, in a lonely area of a natural park. Notwithstanding, nobody misses them, so they are seemingly travelling abroad. Only the mother of one of the girls lacks confidence about the postal cards received. Inexplicably, one of the members of the investigators team, always punctual, efficient, lonely and silent, does not attend to the work meeting called without a conviction about there were a real case. Mystery and intrigue are thus present from the beginning.

After almost thirty years in service, a tired and irritable Wallander, who can not understand how violence signs rule over the old model society, worried by symptoms of an unexpected illness he does not want to accept, has to give the best of himself in order to arrange the pieces of a new and inextricable puzzle. A very challenge for an investigation team that can not find a path that allows them to advance even a step. "In front of us we only have the most absolute emptiness" will be the hopeless conclusion of a Wallander whose substitution in the case direction is considered by the attorney. He will have to look for the minor details, often hidden, so as to find a minimal clue. In his search the reader will have to accompany Wallander through frequent trips, including one to some lonely and heavenly islands. Mankell says he consciously alters the locations of some places. Probably he has made use of this kind of resource when he refers to a charter flight to Sweden from Marbella. On the contrary it would be useful to invite him to visit the city of Málaga (where it is located the airport instead of Marbella) and, maybe, we could have the opportunity to meet inspector Kurt Wallander.

Finally, if it is allowed me, a last warning for those who, for any reason, have not yet open a book by Mankell. If they do it they will run a serious risk of being caught by the irresistible tension of the narrative sobriety of this great Swedish novelist. Those who were not so cautious are impatient waiting publishing works of the next daily adventure of inspector Wallander come to the end.

Alejandro G. Puig
Málaga (Spain)