I have a little confession to make – this week I’ve been doing something I haven’t done for a long time, which is reading two books in tandem. Not the biggest crime in the world, I know, but a tendency I’ve suppressed recently as I often ended up not finishing books because of doing this.
But I started “Underground Overground” at the start of the week, which I’m over halfway through and still enjoying. I paused while I did a little research on old Tube maps online, as maps are the only thing lacking in the book, and got sidetracked a little by the last Wallander – “A Troubled Man” by Henning Mankell, which Youngest Child got me for Christmas.
I’ve read all of the Wallander books; in fact, I had quite a Scandinavian crime fiction fad a few years back, and I read all of the Martin Beck series, all of the Wallanders and some Inspector Irene Huss books by Helene Tursten. I confess that I haven’t followed through with more of the modern authors – tried a Jo Nesbo and the Stieg Larssons, but I found these disappointing, just too violent and without the depth of the other books I read. I am, however, inordinately fond of Arnaldur Indridason’s Icelandic detective Erlenudur!
Anyway – anyone who has read any of Mankell’s Wallander books will know what to expect – a complex plot, some lovely scenery, Wallander going through various stages of confusion, depression and anger…. Well, that probably makes them sound a little clichéd – they’re not, really, and at nearly 500 pages this is certainly an absorbing read!
The troubled man of the title is Håkan von Enke, the prospective father-in-law of Wallander’s daughter, Linda – but it’s obvious that the epithet also applies to the detective himself, as he is beset with a variety of issues throughout the book. Håkan inexplicably disappears, after half-confiding some vague secrets to Wallander, and this is followed by the later disappearance of his wife Louise, who then turns up murdered halfway through the book. There are a number of complex sub-plots about spying, submarine incidents and relationships between various countries during the Cold War, plus quite an array of characters.
The plot and the denouement themselves are absorbing enough, but Mankell is also using the book to settle most of Wallander’s accounts and tie up the loose ends in his life, leaving him to slope off into the proverbial sunset. Kurt’s past loves, in the form of his ex-wife Mona and lover Baiba, are revisited and settled up with. There’s a lot of ruminating on his relationship with his father, his daughter and colleagues. Many of the locations and events of past cases are referenced. There’s disillusionment with the state of the modern world and also the way Sweden is currently running its police force. All of this is interesting, and is never so long-winded that it detracts from the plot. Wallander’s health has its ups and downs, and he manages a lot of travel in the book. There’s also plenty of tragedy waiting in the wings…
Obviously, this is not the place to start if you are coming to Mankell’s Wallander books for the first time and they should definitely be read in order. But it’s a fitting finale for the detective, moving in places, exciting and intriguing – I read it at a gallop and really enjoyed it! Mankell’s books are not my favourite Swedish crime fiction – as far as I’m concerned, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series holds the crown, they’re just a magnificent series of books. But Mankell’s stories run a very close second and this is a worthy addition to the canon.
Now I need to get back to the Tube!