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The Man Who Smiled

by Henning Mankell, translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson (Vintage Crime, 2005)

“Can you tell me any kind of crime for which the figures are improving?” she said.
He thought for a moment. “The theft of black-and-white televisions.”

The world’s favourite Scandinavian detective Kurt Wallander is back in the fourth instalment of the series. Having killed a person in the line of duty—and to save his own life—he finds himself sinking deeper into an alcohol-fuelled vortex. He is depressed, dejected and on the verge of handing in his papers as a police officer.

Taking lonely walks along the beaches of Denmark trying to get over his depression, he is suddenly approached by an old friend who implores with him to take on the case of his father’s death. While for all intents and purposes old Gustaf Torstensson died in an accident, his son Sten is convinced otherwise. A few days later, Sten ends up dead as well. This time there is little doubt it is murder.

Back in the mantle of a police inspector and leading an investigation yet again, Wallander finds that his year away has seen a number of changes, not the least of which is Ystad’s first female detective, Ann-Brit Höglund. Wallander finds himself in the role of a mentor to Höglund, and it is difficult not to draw comparisons with Ian Rankin’s Inspector John Rebus and his Siobhan Clarke.

As the case meanders its way through a compex course, the investigators learn what is apparent to the reader from the start—that a ruthless and powerful hand is behind the crimes. Someone who doesn’t like the fact that Wallander might know what he shouldn’t.

Finding answers and fearing for his life becomes synonymous for Kurt Wallander as he and his team try to find cracks in the impeccable facade of an internationally acclaimed businessman and an icon of Swedish society. The question is, exactly how much depravity can a perfect smile hide?

Like all the Wallander books, this one too has an overhanging cloud of gloom (though, to be fair, it ends in an upbeat mood). Wallander’s temperamental father provides what can, in a sense, be called comic relief. The conversation is far more stilted in this book than its predecessors, and one is tempted to put that down to the fact that it is a translation. Which is not to criticize the translator. Laurie Thompson has done a terrific job in capturing the atmosphere, and it is easy to forget sometimes that ways of speaking in other languages are different. A translation doesn’t necessarily suffice.

A perfect weekend companion for the connoisseur of crime and sympathizer of Wallander!

RATING: 7/10