Faceless Killers is Henning Mankell’s first Kurt Wallander novel. I learned of the books after watching the excellent British television series adaptations starring Kenneth Branagh. I find it quite interesting to note that the producers of Wallander chose to adapt the series out of order (so Faceless Killers was the first episode of season two, or the fourth episode overall, but many of the character-driven events from the novel take place in the first episode of the show). Although I enjoyed this book, I didn’t connect as deeply to the characters as I did watching the television series and I’m guessing that Mankell develops the characters across his series (11 books and counting).
Like Stieg Larsson’s Dragon Tattoo series, the Kurt Wallander books seem to deal explicitly with political and social problems in Sweden. Having just read Denise Mina’s Garnethill trilogy, I find this an interesting aspect of recent crime fiction novels. (I don’t know enough about the genre to comment more than that, but definitely these recent series are far more explicitly political than, say, the Sherlock Holmes series, Agatha Christie or the noir novels of the 30s). Specifically, Faceless Killers takes on the issue of Sweden’s open immigration policy and the racial tensions that result from the influx of foreigners into what was formerly a rather homogenous country. Kurt Wallander is a 40-something police detective who is barely managing his life – he drinks too much and eats unhealthily, his wife is divorcing him, his daughter won’t talk to him and he’s struggling to cope with his aging father. One thing Wallander is good at, though, is solving crimes, which is a good thing because he’s got a doozy on his docket. An elderly couple is brutally, sadistically murdered on their farm and the only lead that Wallander has is that the wife said the word “foreign” before she died. This unleashes an unpleasant series of events. Someone leaks the wife’s final words to the press and a white supremacist group uses the uproar as an excuse to launch a series of attacks against immigrants.
This book wasn’t exactly a comfortable read – for one thing, Wallander consistently does some wincingly self-destructive things across the arc of the novel and for another Mankell isn’t entirely a sure hand at plotting out his two disparate criminal plots. The story unfolds in fits and starts – it’s very clear that Mankell hasn’t entirely mastered the genre yet. Nevertheless for all that, it’s a good book and definitely I am interested in reading more of the Wallander series.