Mankell, Henning - 'Faceless Killers' (translated by Steven T Murray)
It is 5am on 7th January 1990 and in the middle of a bleak, bitterly cold winter on a Swedish farm in a very remote, rural location. Inspector Kurt Wallander is called from his sleep to drive 20 kilometres to this desolate farm where a murder has been discovered. An elderly, retired, farming couple lived there and they have been tortured in a most bloody, unspeakable manner. The man has suffered terribly before he died. The woman was tied to a chair but is still barely alive, a noose knotted around her neck. She is rushed to hospital but dies shortly after.
Before she passed away she uttered the barely audible word "foreigners", which Wallander took to mean was a clue to the identity of her attackers. Wallander and all his detectives are profoundly shocked at the wanton cruelty of the killings. Who could do such a thing and why? The victim's last word is hardly confirmation, as it could be interpreted in many ways.
Wallander is at a complete loss as to whom could have perpetrated this dreadful crime, the dead victims were poor, they did not appear to have any valuables or cash in their possession and had been discovered by their equally poor neighbours, who had been their friends for many years and hadn't heard anything suspicious. But with these very basic facts starts a very gripping police procedural of the highest quality.
Wallander organises his detectives to check out the backgrounds of all the people involved and gives a press conference, as his boss is on holiday and he is the ranking detective. Unfortunately, an internal leak reveals to the press the last word of the woman and immigrants start getting attacked by fascist groups in Sweden. The story steams on from one random clue to the next and from the discovery of the murders, to the final arrest of the murderers, it takes many months of steady toil and patient analysis of many clues and data, sometimes requiring travel to other towns to collect it. The identity of the killers is discovered on an evidence basis and is surprising even though I remember the details from the BBC TV series.
The book is remarkably different from the TV programme with Kenneth Branagh as Wallander, mainly in the fact that there is 20 years of time separating them. In the book Wallander does not use a mobile phone and the book tends to emphasise the back story - the loneliness and isolation of this detective more and also the vast isolation of the farming community in which he lives and works. Wallander seems to be almost exhausted most of the time and the detectives he works with are also equally fatigued. He does not seem to want to sleep either, drinking endless cups of coffee. We hear of his problems with his relationship to his ex-wife, daughter and father. We scorn his poor diet, eating lots of pizza and other fast food and drinking too much whiskey. He is worried about cracking this case and thinks of little else.
I loved this book and enjoyed it tremendously, there is so much more to the story than the brief details revealed in the TV programme. I have never read any of Henning Mankell's work before but will certainly look out for it on the strength of this book, excellently translated by Steven T Murray.
Terry Halligan, England