The Kurt Wallander Mysteries

by Garry Enns

Opening disclaimer: this is not a book review.

Patti Smith, another fan, at Henning Mantell’s apartment door.

At best this is a story of how I became so completely engrossed in the life of Swedish detective Kurt Wallander, that I am hoping his daughter will follow in his footsteps … but I had better stop there before you learn more than you should before starting to discover the amazing character who is Wallander for yourself.

But I can give you a hint. When Wallander ends up having to kill a particularly vicious murderer, he reluctantly agrees to take leave from work because of his fall into depression.  And there’s his aging father,who is a painter he visits on a regular basis, even though they disagree on most everything.  And his young daughter who is trying to figure out what she wants from life, as well as an ex-wife we don’t see too often which is probably for the best because Wallander really has never gotten over her, even though the divorce has been final for some time.

Perhaps my descriptions suggest that Kurt Wallander and his world are made to seem remarkably real and close at hand, even though the city, the people, the country seem far from what we have come to expect in a murder mystery. This is a new setting for the dark and brooding musings of a homicide detective. It’s a place into which the reader gets drawn – quickly and inexorably – and before one realizes, it’s too late to put the book down and maybe come back to it another time.

Perhaps I’m simply excited to find a mystery that is not set in London, New York, or Los Angeles. It’s not even set in Stockholm. Ystad and surroundings is a Sweden that speaks to my rural roots in the same way that I could see my Mennonite roots showing through the dirt and grime that Schneppa Knals kept digging through to solve the mystery of the “Murder in Gutenthal”.

Kurt Wallender leaves the reader no choice. He expects you to travel with him along the windswept coastline of his beloved country – who knew that Belarus was THAT close to Sweden? – to be reminded that the Cold War is far from over or to realize that neutrality was really not an option for any country in the Second World War.

However, the Kurt Wallander Mysteries were not my introduction to the writing of Henning Mankell. One of his novels – The Italian Shoes – came recommended by a friend and I found it on the shelves in one of the best airport bookstores I have encountered – in Ottawa, a couple of years ago. I devoured a good portion of it before arriving in Iqaluit. The story, and its telling, captivated me, as much for the images of the country and its beauty as for the amazing people and their circumstances. Go figure – Italian shoes in Sweden.
It really did not occur to me that I was reading a translation.

A few months later I was back in my favourite of all bookstores – Winnipeg’s McNally Robinson at Grant Park Shopping Mall – and was scouring the mysteries for anything new from P.D. James or Ruth Rendell or Martha Grimes (Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed the preponderance of women murder-mystery writers?) when I discovered several “Kurt Wallander Mysteries” written by Henning Mankell.

Having made such a discovery, all readers of mysteries will understand my immediate dilemma: which was the first. You want to start at the beginning, because we all know that part of what draws us to the mystery genre is the gradual development of the lead detective/police/investigator/ salvage operator around whom the stories are built. Copyright dates can be a clue, but not always; especially when the series is in translation. Sue Grafton made this VERY easy – by using the alphabet in all of her titles.

Any Kurt Wallander Mystery can stand on its own. Having said that, I would recommend you start the series with “Faceless Killers”. And if you’ve already watched the first season of  Wallander (Starring and directed by Keneth Branagh) you’ll know the story’s power translates very well to the small screen. And you will already have seen the ending. But you’re still going to want to read the book(s). There is much to learn about Wallander, his life, his family, his country, his fears, and his fears for the country he loves.

When reading in translation I always wish I could compare with the original. Regardless each Wallander mystery has felt that I was reading in the original. Henning Mankell is an award-winning author. He’s also a playwright and was invited – in 1986 – to run  the Teatro Avenida in Maputo, Mozambique. Since then he spends at least half of each year working with the theatre in Maputo and writing.

To find out more about Kurt Wallander and his creator, go to:

You will not be disappointed.


Garry Enns is my older brother who let me follow him around The Manitoban when I was in high school, giving me  books to read like Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Virginia Wolff’s The Waves. And my first book to review – David Sterne by Marie Claire-Blais. He works in Iqaluit, with home being here in Aubigny, Manitoba, on the Red River, where the MWG held its first meeting.


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