Overnight it was announced that Henning Mankell has died. Diagnosed with cancer early last year, he seemed to move behind the scenes after he wrote a diary about the experience. We knew he was ill, we probably all realised that he was unlikely to survive, and yet, 67 seems too young. Too young particularly, to remove a writer of such thought-provoking and insightful books as those that Mankell has penned.
We went to see him speak many years ago now at the Melbourne Writers' Festival and it quickly became apparent that Wallender and Mankell were not too distant from each other. Although his reply to the question about why he wrote he started out with a crime novel (Faceless Killers) (and I'm paraphrasing badly) has stayed with me since. He wrote a crime novel about his countries relationship with, and treatment of refugees because what was happening was a crime. Something that has a resonance with current day Australia which is profoundly discomforting.
And it's that sort of considered, thoughtful and pointed observation that made me love Mankell's writing so very much. A long time before "Scandi-noir" got trendy, these were the books that had many crime fans enthralled. They seemed to come from a different sort of perspective - there was nothing thrillerish or exciting or even light-hearted about the Wallender series in particular, it was very much about the why's and what's of crime. Either as an observation of what's wrong with a society, or what's different, wrong, challenging about people.
And then there was the Memory Book Project and I Die, but the Memory Lives On. A project that gives those dying of AIDS in Africa an opportunity to record their lives in words and pictures for the children they leave behind. Heart-wrenchingly sad, and yet uplifting and inspirational at the same time, admiration for this project, and Mankell's role in it cannot be understated.
It's been a particularly sad year in which the world has lost some wonderful writers - and Henning Mankell will be greatly missed in these parts, leaving me with yet another series that I will be heading back to the beginning for an even more reflective reread.
It was a senselessly violent crime: on a cold night in a remote Swedish farmhouse an elderly farmer is bludgeoned to death, and his wife is left to die with a noose around her neck. And as if this didn’t present enough problems for the Ystad police Inspector Kurt Wallander, the dying woman’s last word is foreign, leaving the police the one tangible clue they have–and in the process, the match that could inflame Sweden’s already smoldering anti-immigrant sentiments.
Unlike the situation with his ex-wife, his estranged daughter, or the beautiful but married young prosecuter who has piqued his interest, in this case, Wallander finds a problem he can handle. He quickly becomes obsessed with solving the crime before the already tense situation explodes, but soon comes to realize that it will require all his reserves of energy and dedication to solve.