Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Tots100 Book Club - Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

I don't read half as much as I used to. You can blame the double whammy of having children and becoming engaged in social media for that. When I get into a good book, everything falls by the wayside. I drop everything - I hate having to stop to make tea, housework goes out the window (not that my house is ever pristine anyway) and I even forget about what's on the television. I can't read in short blocks - I need a good run at a book and read it in long sessions. I've been known to read books in a day before now but you can't do it with constant interruptions from small children and when they're at school, I'm supposed to be working!

I'm a huge fan of murder mysteries, whodunnits, crime fiction, whatever you want to call them. I've read the usuals - I went through every book Agatha Christie wrote in my late teens and twenties. Very English, murder with a thin veneer of respectability, which harks back to a bygone age. I moved onto Dick Francis - crime with a strong smell of horses in it! I've read many different mysteries, but over the last few years, I moved onto more contemporary - and grittier - writers.

Having sent me Helen's favourite book and a little extra treat, the Tots100 Book Club have asked me to pay it forward and recommend my favourite book to another reader and so I decided to pick out a book by a writer I have read frequently over the last few years. The book is Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell. It is the first book which features Kurt Wallander, a police detective in the town of Ystad in southern Sweden. Being a first book, it's a good introduction to the character and sets the scene for later novels.

Wallander books are never light reads. They deal with difficult subjects and is in part a social commentary on what he sees as a Sweden failing to adapt to modern life. The murders are often gruesome, never pleasant and of course feature many twist and turns. Wallander, himself, is of course a complex character. He drinks too much, is grumpy quite a lot and likes his opera - touches of Morse, perhaps, but he is his own man and  a good policeman, even if he doesn't always get results in the prescribed way.

Faceless Killers opens in a lonely farmhouse in the countryside around Ystad, where an elderly farmer is found beaten and tortured to death early on a cold January morning. His wife is also left for dead, with a noose round her neck. She survives long enough for her last word to be heard -  "foreign". Some believe that the attackers were indeed "foreign" and this gets leaked to the press. The relevation sparks off a series of attacks on immigrants. Wallander is not convinced that the killers were indeed foreign and begin digging into the farmers' lives and starts uncovering secrets from their past.

All this is set against a backdrop of Wallander's personal life - his failed marriage, his fragile relationship with a difficult daughter, a father who disapproves of the career path he chose. In addition, one of his oldest colleagues becomes ill and descends towards death, a man whom Wallander clearly respects and whose counsel he seeks. It is all pretty bleak, but the landscape in that part of the world is pretty bleak for large chunks, a fact overlooked largely by the BBC adaptations starring Kenneth Branagh, filmed mostly in the summer months, making the programmes seem like a travelogue. If you do like the books, I thoroughly recommend watching the Swedish language Wallander series, starring Krister Henriksson because to me, he IS Wallander and I now picture him in my head when reading the books.

Faceless Killers can be a challenging read because it's not just a crime novel - it makes you think. I like books like that and it's why all the Wallanders are my favourites.

I'm going to recommend this book to Nova at Cherished by Me because I know that like me, she enjoys a good murder mystery. In fact, I have recommended the Wallander books to her before so let's hope she's not run off and read them all in the meantime. Fingers crossed she enjoys the book.

(Tots100 Book Club sent me the book recommended by Helen to me, along with a bar of chocolate. I have chosen this book to review and recommend to someone else; all opinions and words are my own.) 
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