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Mankell, Henning - 'The Man Who Smiled' (translated by Laurie Thompson)
Paperback: 448 pages (Dec. 2009) Publisher: Vintage ISBN: 0099546353

At the start of this book, Kurt Wallander has been off work for a year, after he killed a man while on duty. He has found it very difficult to come to terms with taking another man's life, and is starting to think he no longer wants to be a policeman. While away from home, a friend of his, Sten Torstensson, a solicitor, comes to see him about his father, who recently died in a car crash. It was apparently an accident, but his son doesn't believe it and wants Wallander to investigate. Kurt cannot shake off his depression, and tells Sten to ask the local police about it. But when Kurt goes home a few days later to finally hand in his resignation, he finds that Sten has been shot and killed in his office. He decides to go back to work to find out who murdered his friend, and if Sten's father really did die in an accident or not. On visiting the scene of the car accident, he finds a single chair leg buried in the mud, and in the locked boot of the car, a chair with three legs. How could a man who died in an accident, lock a chair in the boot afterwards? Immediately, Kurt knows that the father was murdered as well as the son, and he has to find out who did this, and why.

Sten's father was killed on his way home from seeing his main client, Alfred Harderberg, an entrepreneur who has become very rich from humble beginnings, and who will buy and sell anything to make a profit. Is there a connection and if so, how do they find it?

The book deals well with Kurt's return to work, and all of his insecurities as he does so. It also introduces Ann-Britt Hoglund, a new female detective, with two children and a husband who is often away from home, who is trying to keep up with the men. She is very talented, but the men often discount her. However, Wallander recognises her talent very early on, and starts to build a very good working relationship with her. There is also the nice touch that Wallander's boss is reluctant for the squad to investigate Harderberg, who must be a decent bloke, because he's so rich and donates a lot of money to charity.

The BBC has made some quite significant plot changes in their adaptation. For example, the security guard at the castle where Harderberg lives is an ex-policeman. But he was not sacked from the police force for running someone over while off duty as in the TV series, but because he was suspected of fraud while on duty amongst other things. In the TV series, he immediately wants to be Wallander's friend, and help out, but in the book, he doesn't willingly help Wallander out until close to the end, when he is just about to lose his job. The book makes more sense than the TV adaptation, and is a satisfying read, and I highly recommend it.

Michelle Peckham, England
February 2010

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 21/02/2010 13:32