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Bookends: A Double Murder Sparks Fears of Racial Violence December 29, 2013

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: A Double Murder Sparks Fears of Racial Violence

By Dan Davidson

August 26, 2013

– 782 words –

 

Faceless KillersFaceless Killers

By Henning Mankell

Translation by Steven T. Murray

The New Press

Norton & Co.

400 Pages

$8.99

 

For Kurt Wallander the Lovgrens’ double murder came at exactly the wrong time in his life. It was worse for their next-door neighbours, the Nystroms, who discovered both the break in and the murders at the farmhouse on that January night. The old man, Johannes, had been so brutally assaulted that the medical examiner could not say with any confidence just what violent act had actually ended his life. His wife, Maria, had also been badly beaten and left tied to a chair with a peculiar strangling knot about her throat. She would die in the hospital, days later, her enigmatic hoarse whisper of “foreign” triggering a possible epidemic of xenophobic killings that simply muddied the waters of an already murky investigation.

 

Wallander was already distracted. His wife had left him just three months earlier and he had still not come to terms with that. She was pretty clear that it wasn’t exactly his fault, and that there wasn’t another man at the time that she left (though there was now) but that their marriage had gone toxic and she simply had to start finding her own life. She wanted to keep in contact, but the marriage was over.

 

Wallander is not coping with this blow by eating too much of the wrong food, gaining weight, drinking too much and getting far too little sleep.

 

On top of that, his relationship with his late teenage daughter, Linda, seemed to have gone to pieces since she was about 15. This is distressing because they had once been so very close.

 

Finally, his father, who had somehow managed to support the family with a commercial art career that involved endless iterations (with minor differences) of exactly the same painting, appears to be on a downhill slide into senility.

 

This novel, the first in the Wallander series, spends about an equal amount of space on the detective’s personal issues and the quest for a solution to the double murder and the racially themed fire bombing, random slaughter and terrorist threats that follow.

 

The murder investigation is further complicated by the discovery the Nystrom was secretly a wealthy man, with resources he and his father had amassed by war profiteering during WWII. His wife didn’t know about this, nor had she ever known that Johannes had sired a son during an affair 30 years earlier.

 

The several investigations that flow from the events of that January night take some eight months to reach their conclusions, and they don’t all come in sequence, nor are they all connected, save that some disparate groups of people have used the original murder as their excuse for mayhem.

 

Red herring investigations are a typical thread in all detective stories, and there are plenty in this, all fostered by the necessary need to create some sort of narrative that will link the essential elements of means, motive and opportunity. Without some kind of story it is difficult to assemble a chain of events and a time line that will account for the scanty clues. How did Johannes get to the bank to take out the cash that seems to have been the reason he and his wife were killed? How did anyone manage to find out that he had it when he had kept his wealth secret for decades? What was the significance of Maria’s last words? Perhaps most puzzling of all: why did the killers take time to feed the old horse in the barn?

 

Some of the confusion comes from the Ystad detachment’s desire to minimize the possibility of the original killing having been racially motivated. It isn’t until they learn about Johannes’ hidden money and the regular payments he’s been making to the mother of his bastard son that they begin to make any progress on the original murder. The subsequent murder of the Somali refugee turns out to be easier to solve, but is not without its moments of difficulty.

 

I’ve been watching the most recent TV movie adaptations of these books, starring Kenneth Branagh as Wallander and David Warner as his dad. While this is the first of the books, they didn’t film it first. Given the amount of physical damage that Wallander sustains in this book, I am curious to see how they handled the facial make-up.

 

The novel was excellent, and once I had begun reading it, it moved right to the top of my list, pushing several others to a lower spot in the queue.

 

-30-

 

 

 

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