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One Step Behind

by Henning Mankell, translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segerberg (Vintage, 2003)

Something’s got to happen, he thought. Something that makes it possible for me to start thinking about the future again.

On Midsummer Eve three young friends meet in a secluded nature reserve to act out an elaborate masquerade, dressing up in eighteenth-century outfits and having a celebration of their own. Unknown to them, someone is watching them. Someone with a warped mind. Someone who wants them dead.

But it isn’t weeks later that their bodies turn up. While postcards appear from one of the young people proclaiming they are travelling in Europe, one distraught parent is sure that they are hoaxes and not written by her daughter. But Kurt Wallander and his team are unable to find a concrete reason to start a full-fledged investigation.

Meanwhile, death strikes closer to the hearts of the Ystad police. One of their colleagues is found murdered, shot at close range with a shotgun. An investigation into the last few weeks of his life reveals his interest in the case of the missing young people.

Could this be the same killer? Who is the mysterious woman named Louise with whom the late police officer had a secret ten-year relationship? What was his connection with the man he went on numerous bird-watching trips with?

As Kurt Wallander leads a murder investigation that has his entire team on edge, he struggles with various issues in his personal life as well. Coming to terms with is father’s death, a friend’s murder and his failing health, can he hang on to see this case to the close? Even as leads emerge, a motive for these seemingly senseless killings remains elusive. The bodies, however, continue to pile up.

What is the connection between the dead people? Why does the killer want them dead? How does he choose his victims? And how does he ensure that the police remain one step behind?

One Step Behind is a tense, suspenseful story, with the reader on tenterhooks, waiting for evil to strike on the next page. Wallander’s gloom contrasts with the oddly warm Skåne August. Henning Mankell creates a stunning mood throughout the book that spirals into an exciting climax. For Wallander afficionados, this is a must-read

RATING: 8/10