Trudi’s #CBR5 review #4: “Den urolige mannen” (The troubled man) by Henning Mankell

Publisher: Gyldendal, 2009 (translated from Swedish to Norwegian)
Page count: 494 pages

“The troubled man” is the ninth and final crime novel about the Swedish policeman and antihero Kurt Wallander. While Wallander himself is troubled for several reasons (health problems, growing old, thoughts of retirement and death, and so forth), the troubled man referred to in the title of the book is actually not Wallander but Håkan von Enke, the father-in-law of Wallander’s daughter, Linda.

After getting suspended from work due to an unrelated incident, Wallander agrees to join Linda at von Enke’s 75th birthday party in Stockholm. von Enke served as a high-ranking Navy officer on various Swedish submarines during the Cold War. During the party, von Enke pulls Wallander aside and tells him a stunning story about an enemy submarine supposedly trapped in Swedish territorial waters in the mid-eighties. The submarine was never forced to reveal itself, but was instead let go after orders from High Command against von Enke’s better judgement. He considered it an act of treason and has dedicated the rest of his career to finding out why and how this came to pass, and who made the orders. Now, over twenty years later, von Enke’s digging may have made him a target – he appears troubled and is carrying his old service gun, but does not tell Wallander why. Wallander does not think more of it, however, until von Enke disappears without a trace a few days later. von Enke’s wife, Louise, is distraught over her husband’s disappearance and asks Wallander to investigate it alongside the Stockholm police’s official investigation for the family’s sake. When Louise subsequently also disappears, only to be found dead several weeks later, what initially looked like an easy case turns into Wallander’s most complex investigation to date, with numerous links back to the Cold War, espionage, the Soviet Union and more – even the CIAmakes an appearance.

I devoured the first eight Wallander books in my terns, and remember them as superb storytelling with completely unpredictable plots. For a long time, Henning Mankell was my favourite crime writer until I eventually ran out of new books and had to move on to other authors. Therefore I got extremely excited when I discovered this (for me) new volume in a bookshop by coincidence. However, after having read it, I’m left with somewhat mixed feelings. The story is well thought through and the plot has the many twists and turns I’d expect, but somehow it all feels a little artificial and contrived. While I didn’t mind the Cold War spy angle per se, I couldn’t help but feel that Mankell throws in one too many minor characters and events (US War veterans, retired Stasi and CIA agents, old East Bloc poisons being used to kill someone in Sweden in 2009 (!), a severely handicapped unknown daughter, and so on) for this story to be even remotely believable. Consequently, I never worked up the enthusiasm for this book that I did for the previous installments. That said, the book is at its finest when it describes Wallander’s personal life, his experience of moving to the countryside, and his fears about old age and death. As Mankell himself is in his sixties, Wallander as a 60-year old man turning more and more into his own father felt real and heartfelt. Mankell also does a wonderful job of tying all loose threads from previous mysteries, e.g. we find out what happens with Linda, Wallander’s ex-wife, and Latvian lover Baiba. For this reason, if not for the crime story itself, Wallander fans should take the time to plow through “The troubled man”.