This is my review of The Troubled Man: A Kurt Wallander Mystery by Henning Mankell.
I could not avoid comparing Mankell's "A Troubled Man" with the bestsellers of the Nordic writers Larsson and Nesbo. Like Larsson, Mankell is deeply concerned about the state of Swedish society, corruption in politics and the security services, and the country's awkward position, supposedly neutral between the "bad guys" in Russia and "good guys" in America, although this crude division oversimplifies the truth. Although Mankell "writes better" than the other two as regards developing characters – I particularly like the complex relationship and dialogues between Wallander and his daughter Linda – this last in the Wallander series is definitely not a page turner. It lacks the tight plotting and moments of tension and high drama you find in Nesbo's Harry Hole novels.
The investigation begins with the disappearance of Håkan von Enke, the retired submarine commander who just happens to be the father of Linda's partner Hans – whose involvement in banking just when Iceland is going bust seems a missed opportunity for development as a subplot. The simple storyline proceeds so slowly, with much of the past drama being revealed to Wallander in long rambling conversations, that I found it hard to continue. The frequent digressions into gloomy even bleak introspection and more bitter than sweet nostalgia began to wear me down. I grew impatient with Wallander's preoccupation with ageing and death – he's only 59, for Heaven's sake! I admit that losing one's mind, which Wallander clearly fears, can strike people far younger than this.
I wondered whether Mankell was investing Wallander with his own sense of mortality, but he's only in his sixties, and seems very active. Perhaps Mankell has grown attached to Wallander and wanted a last novel that would "take stock" of his life, and pursue a realistic approach in denying a happy old age to a man who has sacrificed too much of himself (as regards personal relationships and hobbies) to catching criminals, and has inevitably been damaged by the horrific sights he has been forced to witness.
Fortunately, the plot picks up at the end with quite a rapid denouement, but I was unconvinced by the way that Wallander's constantly reiterated sense that he is "missing something" suddenly resolves into a neat set of accurate deductions.
Filled with admiration for Mankell's support of just causes (including his stance on Palestine), his practical financial aid to those in need and evident wisdom in judging the state of the world, I would like to give him 5 stars. Although I might just give 4 for the quality of the writing, the plot seems a little too thin and lame and would have gained from a little more of the author's time. So, if I give this 4 stars it is as a psychological study rather than a successful detective thriller. Of course, this makes it "out of kilter" with the rest of the series…..