The Swedish writer Henning Mankell's new novel, The Troubled Man, is another installment of his long-running series about Kurt Wallander, a police detective who works in the southernmost part of Sweden. It's been about 10 years since the last Wallander novel, and this one arrives with a sad announcement — it is likely to be the last.
Mankell is one of Sweden's most popular writers, and his moody police detective is another of Sweden's most popular exports.
As to why this will be the end of the series, Mankell tells Morning Edition guest host Linda Wertheimer, "Maybe I'm a little old-fashioned. In the times where everyone is talking about how everything is a process, I am keen on dots ... you call them a period. I believe in periods. I really thought that now is the ending, to make the final period in the stories of Wallander."
The book is about a Cold War incident involving Sweden and the Soviet Union, and one of the characters is a retired submariner. Mankell describes the real-life inspiration for the story:
"During my lifetime, one of the worst political scandals in Sweden was absolutely what happened surrounding the submarines in Swedish waters in 1982, where there were supposed to be Russian submarines close to Stockholm, and the Swedish army never got one up. And what we know today is that there were no Russian submarines; if there were [any], they were probably American submarines. This is still one of the worst scandals, politically, we have seen."
In the book, the Swedish submariner who is also the father-in-law of Wallander's daughter goes missing, and then his wife goes missing.
"That is the sort of plot that starts everything in this book," Mankell says. "And then I tried to tell the story about all the hypocrisy and all the lying concerning the Swedish neutrality during the 1950s and '60s and even up to today. That is the basic story of this book."
Complicating that basic story is Wallander's age; as the detective is trying to solve the crime, his health is slowly worsening.
Henning Mankell was born in Stockholm, Sweden, and later lived in Maputo, Mozambique. He is the author of 10 Kurt Wallander books, in addition to numerous other novels and plays.
"Well, I believe that life is very complicated," Mankell says. "And the only way you can show life in a truthful way is to show how complicated it is, as an individual, but also your relation between a complicated life and the complications you have inside you. So in that sense, I'm happy that I dared to write this rather complicated novel, as you say."
Mankell has said many times that he is nothing like Kurt Wallander, and he denies having similarly bleak visions of life as compared to those of his protagonist.
"I don't believe that I'm scared of dying," he says. "What really scares me, if one day, physically fit, I am told by my wife, 'Henning, you are losing your head, you don't know what you're saying, you're forgetting everything.' That is a sort of fear that many people have, and I wanted to talk a little about that fear. We have to accept that this is a real, real scary thing that can happen when you get old."
And as for whether there may be any hope for a new Wallander book in the future, Mankell has this to say to his fans: "At least I did not make the same mistake as Conan Doyle, who killed off Sherlock Holmes and had to bring him back again. [Wallander's] daughter is also a police officer so, who knows? That's the best answer I can give you."
The Troubled Man By Henning Mankell Hardcover, 384 pages Knopf List Price: $26.95
The year Kurt Wallander celebrated his fifty-fifth birthday, he fulfilled a long-held dream. Ever since his divorce from Mona fifteen years earlier, he had intended to leave his apartment in Mariagatan, where so many unpleasant memories were etched into the walls, and move out to the country. Every time he came home in the evening after a stressful and depressing workday, he was reminded that once upon a time he had lived there with a family. Now the furniture stared at him as if accusing him of desertion.
He could never reconcile himself to living there until he became so old that he might not be able to look after himself anymore. Although he had not yet reached the age of sixty, he reminded himself over and over again of his father's lonely old age, and he knew he had no desire to follow in his footsteps. He needed only to look into the bathroom mirror in the morning when he was shaving to see that he was growing more and more like his father. When he was young, his face had resembled his mother's. But now it seemed as if his father was taking him over-like a runner who has been lagging a long way behind but is slowly catching up the closer he gets to the invisible finish line.
Wallander's worldview was fairly simple. He did not want to become a bitter hermit growing old in isolation, being visited only by his daughter and perhaps now and then by a former colleague who had suddenly remembered that Wallander was still alive. He had no religious hopes of there being something in store for him on the other side of the black River Styx. There would be nothing but the same darkness that he had once emerged from. Until his fiftieth birthday, he had harbored a vague fear of death, something that had become his own personal mantra-that he would be dead for such a long time. He had seen far too many dead bodies in his life. There was nothing in their expressionless faces to suggest that their souls had been absorbed into some kind of heaven. Like so many other police officers, he had experienced every possible variation of death. Just after his fiftieth birthday had been celebrated with a party and cake at the police station, marked by a speech full of empty phrases by the former chief of police, Liza Holgersson, he had bought a new notebook and tried to record his memories of all the dead people he had come across. It had been a macabre exercise and he had no idea why he had been tempted to pursue it. When he got as far as the tenth suicide, a man in his forties, a drug addict with more or less every problem it was possible to imagine, he gave up. The man had hanged himself in the attic of the condemned apartment building where he lived, hanging in such a way that he was guaranteed to break his neck and hence avoid being slowly choked to death. His name was Welin. The pathologist had told Wallander that the man had been successful-he had proved to be a skillful executioner. At that point Wallander had abandoned his suicide cases and instead stupidly devoted several hours to an attempt to recall the young people or children he had found dead. But he soon gave that up as well. It was too repugnant. Then he felt ashamed of what he had been trying to do and burned the notebook, as if his efforts were both perverted and illegal. In fact, he was basically a cheerful person-it was just that he had allowed another side of his personality to take over.
Death had been his constant companion. He had killed people in the line of duty-but after the obligatory investigation he had never been accused of unnecessary violence.
Having killed two people was the cross he had to bear. If he rarely laughed, it was because of what he had been forced to endure.
But one day he made a critical decision. He had been out near Löderup, not far from the house where his father used to live, to talk to a farmer who had been the target of a very nasty robbery. On the way back to Ystad he noticed a real estate agent's sign picturing a little dirt road where there was a house for sale. He reacted automatically, stopped the car, turned around, and found his way to the address. Even before he got out of the car it was obvious to him that the property was in need of repair. It had originally been a U-shaped building, the bottom half clad in wood. But now one of the wings was missing-perhaps it had burned down. He walked around the house. It was a day in early fall. He could still remember seeing a skein of geese migrating south, flying directly above his head. He peered in through the windows and soon established that only the roof badly needed to be fixed. The view was enchanting; he could just make out the sea in the far distance, and possibly even one of the ferries on the way to Ystad from Poland. That afternoon in September 2003 marked the beginning of a love story with this remote house.
Excerpted from The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell. Copyright 2011 by Henning Mankell. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.