by Bruce TierneySeptember, 2006
Mystery of the Month
In my estimation, some of the finest suspense novels in recent memory hail (sorry, couldn't resist the pun) from the lands of ice and snow Scandinavia. I suppose it all started, in modern times at least, with Peter Hoeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow. Recent entries by Hakan Nesser (Borkmann's Point) and Karin Fossum (Don't Look Back) feature atmospheric settings, complex and thoughtful protagonists and brilliant storylines. Swedish author Henning Mankell does nothing to let his side down with the latest installment in the Kurt Wallander series, The Man Who Smiled. First published in Sweden in 1994, this fourth novel featuring the troubled detective is just now reaching our shores. As the book opens, Wallander is on sick leave, racked both physically and mentally from having taken the life of a criminal in the line of duty. A friend enlists Wallander's aid in the investigation of a parent's death, then quite suddenly thereafter the friend is murdered as well. Wallander reneges on his tendered resignation, and plunges full force into the investigation of what he now regards as two murders. There will be more murders before the investigation draws to a close, and a near miss for Wallander as well. Clues seem to point to a wealthy and reclusive businessman, but the sums don't quite add up. At every turn, the police are stymied by their bosses, local political figures and the layers of security that blanket the enigmatic tycoon. Then the rumors begin to get really creepy, with suggestions of a network of third-world human organ harvesting, and sales to the highest bidder. The Man Who Smiled is a first-rate detective story, no doubt, but more than that, it manages the border crossing into superlative mainstream fiction, not unlike the aforementioned Smilla's Sense of Snow. On a happy note, there are another five Kurt Wallander novels awaiting the estimable skills of Mankell translator Laurie Thompson. Laurie, don't make us wait too long!