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Faceless Killers (1991), Henning Mankell's first Kurt Wallander detective/police novel, opens with an aged Swedish farmer waking up in the middle of the night on January 7, 1990 trying to dismiss his feeling that something dreadful has just happened: “After all, what could happen here? In the little town of Lenarp, just north of Kade Lake, on the way to beautiful Krageholm Lake, right in the heart of Skane? Nothing ever happens here." He knows that "People like us don't have any enemies." Alas, as he soon learns, his neighbors have just been savagely attacked, the husband bashed and cut to death and the wife beaten and noosed. Who could do something like that? And why? And why did the attackers feed couple's horse before vacating the scene of the crime? And can veteran detective Kurt Wallander apprehend the criminals?
At forty-two, Wallander is not in great shape. His wife left him three months ago, his once suicidal daughter is now estranged, his demanding and resentful father is going senile, he's visited by a black woman in lonely erotic dreams, he is overweight, and he is not pretty when he drinks. The only thing that gives him pleasure (albeit mixed with melancholy) is listening to opera. For the rest of the novel, Wallander wrestles with (or ignores or exacerbates) his personal problems as he marshals his policeman techniques, colleagues, and instincts to try to solve the brutal mystery.
Mankell efficiently and compellingly fulfills the mystery-police-procedural genre requirements: brutal murders, red herrings, dead ends, epiphanies, media leaks, social problems, ineffectual government officials, unpredictable action scenes, believable supporting characters, and a flawed but good protagonist. And it feels interesting and fresh enough, perhaps partly because it takes place in Sweden, land of exotic names, bitter winters, and police who don't carry guns. Small touches in the novel hold up an interesting mirror to America, as when a policeman says about a "slaughterhouse" of a crime scene, "It was worse than you could imagine . . . Like an American movie." And through Wallander's point of view Mankell captures the dramatic and unsettling changes going on in Sweden in the 1990s: disorganized multi-ethnic refugee camps, organized nationalist neo-Nazis groups, increased drug and violent gang activity in previously quiet rural areas, and so on. At one point Wallander thinks, “A new world had emerged, and he hadn’t even noticed it. As a policeman, he still lived in another, older world. How was he going to learn to live in the new?” For "We're living in the age of the noose," a new age of senseless violence and fear.
Despite the barren and silent Swedish autumn and winter, despite moments when Wallander does something “unforgivable and dangerous,” despite moments when he thinks, “Somewhere in the dark a vast meaninglessness was beckoning. A sneering face that laughed scornfully at every attempt he made to manage his life,” the novel is not a downer. There is the appealing grim humor. The human characters. The neat lines sprinkled throughout. (E.g., “Every time he stepped into someone’s home, he felt as though he were looking at the cover of a book he’d just bought.” And “There’s no such thing as a murderer’s face.”) And, after all, Wallander is "a policeman to the core."
It is not a perfect novel. At one point, for instance, Wallander receives a call from a woman who whispers, “They’re here!” and he with unbelievable obtuseness says, “Who?” If the reader immediately knows "their" identity, surely Wallander, a veteran policeman with great instincts who's been living the case for months, would surely know it at the same time, if not first.
Sean Barrett gives a professional and appealing reading of Faceless Killers. I've listened to him read Kafka on the Shore, Waiting for Godot, and The Silver Sword, and each time he's been great. I appreciate that his women sound like people, not like a man striving to sound like women. He enhances the book. I am curious, though, why the Swedish original lasts 9+ hours, the Dick Hill read version about 9 hours, and Barrett's only about 8 hours. . .
Since the realistic contemporary detective-mystery-police-procedural is not my favorite genre, I'm unsure whether or not I'll continue the Wallander series, especially because the remaining books available are not read by Sean Barrett, but fans of that genre (especially examples set in an exotic country) should enjoy Faceless Killers.
Would you consider the audio edition of Faceless Killers to be better than the print version?
Did the plot keep you on the edge of your seat? How?
What does Sean Barrett bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?
YES HE IS A VERY GOOD READER AND WE BOTH ENJOYED HIS PRESENTATION
Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
Neither but kept us guessing to the end
After reading the books at the end of this series I headed back to the beginning where I should've started! I did enjoy this book and as usual excellent narration. This did fill in some of the gaps for me with incidents mentioned later on, story not as good as the others but still worth a listen.
After this book I found The Dogs of Riga -2nd book and I really did enjoy that - an excellent listen I couldn't put down- fills in the gaps of how Wallander met Bieber and the story behind her- thoroughly enjoyable listen and highly recommended. Great story with lots of twists and turns right up to the end! Am miffed that this was the last book for me to read in the series so off to find a new series!
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
The first time I head of Kurt Wallander was when I watched an episode of UK series Wallander starring Kenneth Branagh. It was a truly refreshing experience. The lead character who is human enough to be believable and yet exciting enough to observ and follow. Since then, I've watched all the available episodes and decided to turn to the source.
The biggest disappointment about the book was that the episode based on it follows it almost to the point. I always knew what was going to happen - hardly anything was changed in the adaptation. Which was the right thing to do as the original, this book, is simply fantastic. The main theme of the book is a very present-day problem not only in Sweden, but all over Europe.
The narration is slow. And is rightly so. Kurt is not one of the those detectives that runs around shooting his gun at everything that doesn't look right. He is very down-to-earth, he is smart, but, what's most important, he is persistent. He will try over and over, and over again, until he succeeds. Slow pace of narration helps to get into the mood of the world surrounding Kurt Wallander.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful