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Tom Chaney: Murder in Scandinavia

Of Writers and Their Books. No. 284. 13 February 2011. Murder in Scandinavia, a review of One Step Behind by Henning Mankell
The next previous Of Writers and Their Books: a review of Lynwood Montell'sTales from Kentucky One-Room School Teachers

By Tom Chaney
Email: Tom Chaney

Murder in Scandinavia

When favorite mystery customer comes in the store and plops a book down saying, "Tom, you've got to read this," I jump to and get it done. She allows for no excuses. It is not a suggestion but an order.

Thus came I to read Henning Mankell's fifth Kurt Wallander mystery,One Step Behind.

A word about the author. Mankell was born in Sweden in 1948. He is a successful author of children's books, adult novels, and plays. He spends time in Sweden and Maputo, Mozambique. In the latter country he is director at Theatro Avenida. His official biography notes that he is committed to the fight against AIDS in Africa spending much time working to raise awareness of the problem.

Henning Mankell is becoming the voice to listen to in Swedish crime writing.

And my pleasure in One Step Behind proves that I must continue to listen to favorite mystery customer.

Wallander lives and is connected with the police force in the harbor city of Ystad in southern Sweden. He is divorced and has difficulty communicating with his grown daughter.

Three young adults are murdered in a secluded meadow while role-playing on Midsummer's Eve. A colleague of Wallander whom he was set to rely upon to assist in solving the crime is discovered brutally murdered as well.

It transpires that the colleague was already working on the murder and had just not had time to communicate with Wallander.

The only clue is a photograph of a woman found in the apartment of the colleague. Even that proves misleading.

Wallander plows on one step behind the killer.

As the novel begins, Wallander is diagnosed with diabetes. Fighting exhaustion and physical illness he seems to arrive too late with too little.

I get a bit tired of the frantic chase scenes of much American crime fiction -- whether it be running from clue to clue around the Vatican or chasing along the river in Memphis. Mankell's forte is interior tension in which the reader knows more than the detective. More than once, knowing what Wallander was in for, I wanted to yell, "Don't go home!"

The author is a master at the description of pursuit; and at the use of landscape to ratchet up our sense of urgency. It doesn't take a James Bond at the wheel of his Bentley to create the suspense of the chase. Mankell titillates not with careening cars or the intricacies of forensic science. He satisfies us with the "pure pleasure of rational thought," as one reviewer observed.

Throughout the novel Wallander meditates upon the deterioration of Swedish society. And his colleague Martinson observes, "Sweden's undergone a fundamental change. A whole generation of young people is losing its way. They don't know what's right or wrong. And I don't know what is the point of being a policeman any more."

Of course, I'm not about to reveal just how many other murders there are, nor just how close Wallander comes to getting it before the end.

I'm just going out to find another of the nine or so Wallander mysteries floating about, and smugly take to my easy chair leaving you to the pleasures of being "One Step Behind."

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at

Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749 (270) 786-3084
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2011-02-13 13:06:56
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