Wallander's Last Stand

By Ott, Bill | American Libraries, March-April 2011 | Go to article overview
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Wallander's Last Stand


Ott, Bill, American Libraries


Readers whose knowledge of Scandinavian crime fiction goes beyond Stieg Larsson know that it was Henning Mankell who jump-started what has developed into a nearly 20-year golden age. The very fact that Sweden could foster a new spin on the Chandlerian hard-boiled novel seemed puzzling initially. How could there be crime novels in such a pristine region, full of nice people, liberal to a fault, the very antithesis of America's mean streets?

No region is all that pristine, of course, including Sweden, but something had changed by the time Mankell started writing, something that transformed Scandinavia into a setting ripe for the hard-boiled style. It all started with the fall of the Iron Curtain. The breaking down of the Soviet Union, combined with Sweden's liberal immigration policies, sent immigrants pouring into a region that had been defined by its insularity and lack of diversity. The resulting culture clash turned the tables on a lot of societal assumptions, prompting the same kind of racist hate crimes that have plagued the U.S. and other parts of Europe. Here was a melting pot waiting to be cracked.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Mankell cracked it. The appearance in the U.S. of Faceless Killers in 1997 announced the arrival not only of a major author but also of a new literary landscape. Much of the attraction of the American hard-boiled hero has been his (or her) unfailing ability to do what we could only dream of doing: stand up to danger with competence, courage, and a smart mouth. Mankell's hero, Ystad police inspector Kurt Wallander, on the other hand, responds to danger with stooped shoulders and an overwhelming sense that his unfathomably chaotic world is more than he can handle.

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