Magazine article The Spectator

Recent Crime Fiction

Magazine article The Spectator

Recent Crime Fiction

Article excerpt

Henning Mankell bestrides the landscape of Scandavian crime fiction like a despondent colossus. Last year's The Man from Beijing, was a disappointing stand-alone thriller with too much polemical baggage. His new novel, The Troubled Man (Harvill Secker, £17.99), brings the return of his series hero, Inspector Kurt Wallender. The title says it all: now that he's 60, Wallender's trademark gloom is darkened still further by the creeping fear that his memory is no longer what it used to be, and that this is the first symptom of a far more serious condition.

In the first few chapters, he also faces disciplinary action, breaks his wrist and gets mugged. So it comes almost as a relief when an old scandal involving a Soviet submarine threatens a former Swedish naval officer, whose son is the partner of Wallender's daughter. The family asks Wallender, who is suspended from duty, to keep an eye on the Stockholm police's investigation.

The Wallender novels are strangely addictive, and it is sad that this will be, we are told, the inspector's last case. Wallender himself, a sort of grown-up Eeyore, holds the novel together, for the plot itself is of secondary interest. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, the book exerts a melancholy fascination. The inspector's swansong is more poignant than thrilling. The novel gives off a powerful sense that his creator shares Wallender's quiet despair.

There's a very different flavour to Michael Koryta's The Cypress House (Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99), which occupies the fertile territory between the crime thriller and the horror novel. Set in a grimly rural Florida in 1935, it begins with a hurricane and gets steadily more dramatic.

Arlen's experiences on the Western Front have left him with the uncomfortable ability to see impending death in other men's faces;

not only that, he labours under the crushing moral burden of knowing that he may be able to save them. He and his mechanically gifted protege, Paul, leave a train carrying fellow veterans to what turns out to be death by hurricane. They find shelter in a lonely hotel run by an enigmatic but beautiful woman. Within hours, Arlen finds himself dealing with murder, false arrest, a corrupt sheriff, an evil judge and a host of nightmarish creatures, some of them human, that lurk in the nearby mangrove swamps.

A novel with such richly sensational ingredients might easily have toppled into farce. Moreover, we are never in any doubt about who the villains are; and Arlen is a classic noir hero - hard-drinking, physically indestructible, psychologically damaged and as soft-hearted as a liqueur chocolate. …

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