“Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “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. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.

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.

7 comments:

kathy d. said...

Thank you so much for this excellent post.

I have read Mankell stand-alones, but not read the Wallender stories, but this propels me to start.

I respect Mankell incredibly for his international activism and principled stands--and he puts his money out there, too. Wonderful person all around.

Perhaps ask Mankell what his plans are now, in his writing.
Will he write more stand-alones? If so, what issues does he want to tackle? And what about his activism and humanitarianism, especially in Africa.

Also, your post here and some prior posts and blog discussion have motivated me to read some books by James Lee Burke. "The Tin Roof Blowdown," has lured me for quite awhile.

Any ideas on where to start or what you consider his best works?

Great website and very interesting posts, and thanks for write-ups about Irish women writers. .

There isn't much build-up over in the States about Irish women writers, except about the excellent Tana French. So I'm very glad to see this.

bookwitch said...

Trust you to 'break' an embargo...

Ask him if he remembers me.

roddy said...

Favourite crime novelists,especially among the Nordic writers?

Ruth Seeley said...

I just read the first in the Wallander series a few days ago - how exciting that you're going to interview Henning Mankell. One of the things that impressed me most about the book was the translation - it was gorgeous - seamless, effective, and absolutely non-intrusive. Why is it that Swedish novelists seem to get the best translators and German novelists the worst? And does the UK/US/CDN publisher of someone like Mankell not get someone to read the translation before publication? This seems to be a vital step that I suspect is often missing.

lil Gluckstern said...

I would like to know what he thinks of the television series with Kenneth Branagh. As an actor, Branagh takes a risk of showing himself as a pudgy, graying middle aged man who is struggling with his demons, and I feel the series captures the bleakness of the landscape-and his soul-very well. I actually have begun reading more of Mankell since the series aired and look forward to more of his quality. Incidentally, I saw a recent picture of James Lee Burke on his daughter's website, I think, and he looked more fragile than in the past. Just as Dave Robicheaux is aging, so is his creator, and that makes me sad. (For all I know) he is more vigorous than I am. I agree that to call the Robicheaux mysteries just does them a great disservice.

Anonymous said...

Declan, Ask him at what point does he know that the series really is over? Does the feeling happen in Mankell himself, or within the development of the character/s? How does he know? Does he just stop being interested?

Rankin and Dexter did this quite differently with Rebus and Morse. PD James should've done it a lot sooner to Dalgliesh, maybe. Frankly, I want Alan Banks to go on forever.. like Thorne, Grace, Perez, Bosch. Remind the man that he really is a class act. You're a lucky man, Dec. Buy him a glass of Red Breast for me.

Nigel

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