29 June 2010

Kalle Bastard

A few weeks ago the New York Times published a piece about the search for the next great Scandinavian crime series. The vacuum left by Stieg Larsson's death and the likely end of his series with THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST (depending on whether you trust the rumors of the 4th in draft) makes execs everywhere say not, "We need to find the next trend in top-selling thrillers," but "Let's quick jump on this bandwagon before it speeds away."

Luckily for you, I am all over this trend like butter and sugar on lefse. Over Memorial Day weekend, I bought a copy of FACELESS KILLERS by Henning Mankell, one of the leading candidates to become the "next" Larsson, at Kaboom Books in Houston. Mankell might find it insulting to be classed as such, given that his 10-book series featuring detective Kurt Wallander began in 1997, has already been adapted into a BBC miniseries starring Kenneth Branagh and was recently brought to a close deliberately by its author... maybe the prospect of selling more books in the heretofore indifferent US market

It's too bad what I read wasn't more promising. FACELESS KILLERS is an obvious predecessor to Larsson's THE GIRL WHO... series, what with their using political currents to feed into crime at hand, the focus on tedium and routine, and the treatment of temporal space as a character. A double murder for which a group of immigrants seeking asylum become the prime suspects makes for a creepy opening but a clumsy development, with the "issue-y" chunks slowing down the suspense of finding the killers. And frankly, I didn't want to spend any more time around the good detective Wallander than I had to; he's basically a dirty, grumpy would-be womanizer who is deeply suspicious of everyone and thinks the world owes him something. Larsson's Mikael Blomkvist has been accused, perhaps with merit, of being a Mary Sue, but at least he's not racist. And without the counterweight of a Salander -- though FACELESS KILLERS does drum up a female D.A. whose time in the center of the plot is deeply appreciated -- we're with him all the time.

I'm not prepared to write off all Scandinavian thrillers because I was disappointed with the Mankell book, but I wonder if the search itself fails to give Larsson enough credit. His reliance on clich├ęs is no worse than any others in his genre, and his character development I submit is much better. Sometimes the "next thing" is nothing at all.

1 comment:

Jenn said...

The later Mankell books about Wallander are better than that first one -- Wallander is sort of an ugly character, but at least half the value of the series is the ways in which Mankell lets him grow/progress/be shown the errors of his ways. Mankell lives part-time in Africa, and is a noted activist in Sweden (recently he was on the flotilla stopped near Israel) so some of his international/personal/political experiences make it into the books, too, the longer the series goes. Firewall is pretty good; The Man from Beijing, which is a non-Wallander book, is also good.