“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Country For Old Men

I’ve read some Henning Mankell novels in the past, but THE TROUBLED MAN is the first Kurt Wallander story I’ve dipped into; and even though reviews are embargoed until March 31st, I’m sure his publishers won’t mind me saying that, 100 pages or so in, it’s a terrific read so far.
  It has a lot in common with James Lee Burke’s THE GLASS RAINBOW, which I read last week and thoroughly enjoyed. Both Wallander and Dave Robicheaux are thoughtful, reflective men; both Mankell and Burke are unobtrusively brilliant stylists; both writers, it’s fair to say, are closer to the end of their careers than the beginning, which is probably why both novels find their protagonists meditating on their own mortality, and the decline and fall of Western civilisation in general, as filtered through Sweden and Louisiana, respectively. Both THE TROUBLED MAN and THE GLASS RAINBOW are excellent examples of novels that employ the tropes of crime / mystery fiction as a jumping-off point for novels that have ambitions above and beyond the conventions of genre fiction (another current example is Tom Franklin’s excellent CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER). Both rather brilliantly lend the lie to the perception of crime / mystery fiction as a game for young men and women, in which dynamic characters dash from one shoot-out to another, dodging bullets and leaping from burning buildings, breaking heads and hearts with equal aplomb.
  Despite the creaking bones and elegiac tones, few novels I’ve read recently have been as dynamic as THE TROUBLED MAN and THE GLASS RAINBOW. Both stories have a propulsive momentum and a page-turning quality that has as much to do with the fine writing and insightful asides as the unravelling of their respective mysteries. Perhaps it’s because both Wallander and Robicheaux are concerned about their legacies, and as such are avatars for their creators (THE TROUBLED MAN is being flagged as the last ever Wallander novel). Maybe I’m reading too much into the stories in that respect; perhaps it’s simply the case that both Mankell and Burke are seasoned professionals and providing exactly what the reader wants and needs; but there’s no doubt that both novels offer a reading experience that’s significantly more satisfying that most crime / mystery offerings I’ve read recently.
  Anyway, I’m scheduled to interview Henning Mankell tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to teasing out some of those issues. In the meantime, if you have any questions you’ve ever wanted to asked Henning Mankell, just leave a note in the comment box and I’ll do my best to work them in.