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One Step Behind - Henning Mankell

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Author: Henning Mankell / Genre: Crime / Thriller

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      25.01.2006 10:46
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      Taut, gripping, utterly fabulous crime fiction from a Swedish author

      Introduction
      I can't remember how I first came across the author Henning Mankell, but he is certainly one of the best crime writers of the last few years as far as I am concerned. Although written in the author's mother tongue, Swedish, excellent translations have reached the English speaking world to bring us Mankell's plots. I believe this particular book is the strongest of his novels yet, with the exception possibly of 'Sidetracked'.

      The author
      Henning Mankell was born in Stockholm just after the Second World War. He is the creator of the Kurt Wallander novels - Kurt Wallander is a detective in the Ystad Police Force. Mankell has also written one or two non-series novels, also featuring police officers as the main character. His book 'Sidetracked' has won the CWA Gold Dagger. Mankell has worked in a series of jobs, including actor and theatre director, as well as management roles in Sweden and Africa. He often uses his experience in his novels, some of which involve African and South American countries.

      The plot
      Three young people go missing after a midnight picnic on Midsummer's Eve. Their parents have received postcards saying that they have gone on a trip to Europe and will be back in a few weeks. However, one of the parents believes that her daughter's handwriting has been forged and entreats the police to do more to find her daughter.

      One of Wallander's colleagues, Svedberg, doesn't turn up for work and Wallander, concerned, goes to track him down at his flat. He finds something he didn't bargain for - his colleague shot through the head. A photograph of the group of young people is found in his flat - what is the connection and why didn't he tell any of his colleagues about his involvement?

      Shortly afterwards, the bodies of the young people are found, bizarrely arranged in a place of national interest. Yet there seems to be no reason for their punishment. Can Wallander and his team discover why they and his colleague were murdered before more killings take place? And who is the mysterious Louise?

      The characters
      Wallander is one of my favourite fictional detectives. He is overweight, lonely, prone to fits of ill temper and alcohol, and suffers terribly from bad health - in this book, he discovers he has diabetes - yet he is strangely likeable. He makes mistakes, but has a knack of dwelling on things until the answer is suddenly in front of him. He is supportive and caring of his staff and they in turn respect him. All are terribly shocked by Svedberg's death.

      His colleagues, notably Martinsson, Hansson, Svedberg, Ann-Britt Hoglund and the head of forensics, Nyberg are characters who appear in most of the Kurt Wallander novels, although obviously Svedberg does not feature after this novel! Nyberg is perhaps the most interesting, being irascible, but always gives of his best and loyally backs Wallander throughout many situations of great pressure.

      Conclusion
      Henning Mankell has an interesting way of setting out his novels. In this novel, as in others, the perpetrator's methods are described at the beginning of the book and then at very points throughout the book, but without giving away who he/she is until right at the end of the book. This really helps to build up interest in the plot and certainly kept me hooked from beginning to end. Mankell is not one of those authors that likes to lay red herring after red herring in front of the reader, for the reader only to find out that the perpetrator was one of the original suspects, but rather chooses to write about crimes that seem to be without reason and unsolvable. This makes a refreshing change from the average crime fiction novel. At 538 pages, this is not a short novel, yet I was disappointed when I reached the end and would happily have read on. Highly recommended.

      A word on the translation - this book was translated by Ebba Segerberg, who teaches English at a university in Missouri. There is no problem with understanding the translation whatsoever and idiomatically, it is 100% correct, although I did very occasionally find the English a little wooden. This did not, however, put me off in any way and those reluctant to read works that are translated should not be concerned either.

      This book is available from Amazon and most high street retailers for £6.99. Published by Vintage. ISBN: 0099448874

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    • Product Details

      It is Midsummer's Eve. Three young friends meet in a wood to act out an elaborate masque. But unknown to them, they are being watched. With a bullet each, all three are murdered. Soon afterwards, one of Inspector Wallander's colleagues is found murdered. Is this the same killer, and what could the connection be? In this investigation, Wallander is always, tantalisingly, One Step Behind.