Winter of Wallander Comes to an End

Late December last year, I started ranting against the book The Girl Who Played with Dragon Tattoos Amongst Hornets Nests. These rants were admittedly unjustifiable since I hadn’t (and still haven’t) read any of Stieg Larsson’s work. But I couldn’t take a subway ride without seeing somebody reading one of his books and I started to get a Dan Brownish kind of feeling about them. I read The DaVinci Code after seeing everybody else reading it and almost had elective eyeball removal surgery after finishing it to prevent me from doing anything like that to my brain ever again. “Dan Brown, I curse at you,” the voice breathlessly cursed as the man shook his fist in a defiant manner toward his antagonist who antagonized him.

A coworker stopped me in the middle of one of my Brown/Larsson rants and suggested Henning Mankell, a Swedish author best known for his Kurt Wallander detective character. I think the selling point was when she said, “You’ll like those books. They’re bleak.” Giddyup. I read them in order. Here’s my quick thoughts on each book.

Faceless Killers. The first Wallander book and my introduction to Kurt who is middle aged, divorced, loves junk food, has a cantankerous father and has no life whatsoever outside of work and drinks enough coffee that he hasn’t slept a full night in ages. (Seriously, you can’t go two pages without a mention of coffee.) The plot had enough turns to keep you reading and I enjoyed it enough to put the next two books on my library queue.

The Dogs of Riga I wasn’t a fan of the sophomore effort which takes mostly in Cold War era Latvia. Wallander is on his own for the most part away from the secondary characters and I would recommend you skip this one. The only thing you need to know from this book is he meets and falls for a widow named Baiba who will appear periodically throughout the rest of the series. I took a break from the series after this book and wasn’t even sure if it was worth going on to the next book. Luckily, somebody on this blog told me to go on.

The White Lioness The first half of this book I couldn’t put down. Wallander is back in Ystad and the secondary characters start playing a bigger role in the series and start to take some life. It got a little silly for the last quarter of the book but overall it’s a good effort.

The Man Who Smiled A bit uneven at times but a new character is introduced who is a woman detective which adds another dimension to the series.

Sidetracked Mankell must have really felt comfortable with Wallander and the rest of his characters because I couldn’t put this book down. He adds a serial killer into the mix and this is by far one of the best thrillers (all of these books are actually thrillers disguised as mysteries. When you’re given the identity of the killer in the beginning, it’s not really a mystery anymore) I’ve read ever, not just in the Wallander series.

The Fifth Woman Another serial killer plot with a slight twist. It felt more like an extension of the last book with a different criminal. Which wasn’t a bad thing.

One Step Behind I don’t remember anything about this novel. My first reaction was to say I enjoyed it but I don’t remember any details. No wait, (SPOILER WARNING) a character becomes a victim and the murder is tied to another serial killing…. I think. I may have just been getting burned out on the series by this time.

Firewall Oy. What a mess this book was. Implausible plot. On the computer virus to cause the end of the world scale kind of awfulness. The characters made the book palatable but the plot… Mein gott.

The Pyramid
5 short stories that predated the first Wallander book. I was Wallandered out at this point but these weren’t bad at all and fleshed out some of his history.

I know there’s a book with his daughter as the protagonist but I never found her kind of annoying and I think I’ll skip that. There’s another Wallander book being published in English sometime this month and I’m not sure if I’ll give it a go or not. Maybe sometime in the future. But not now.


  1. I think I inadvertently skipped Firewall, so maybe I won’t rush to read it. Overall I’m glad you enjoyed the series, I think they’re overall excellent. Reading them all back to back is probably a pretty easy way to fatigue of it though.

  2. Not having read “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (which, IMHO, is a bad title, the original Swedish book was called “Men Who Hate Women” and sounds far more jolly) I can’t comment on the writing style or, more accurately, the translator’s writing style. But watch the 2009 movie and you’ll see why people are fascinated by the character of Lisbeth Salander.

  3. I feel your reluctance based on the Da Vinci Code thing… but the Larsson books are really excellent… I bogged down only slightly due to the unfamiliar place names, and the painstakingly detailed back story, but my overall impression, despite grave misgivings going in, is that these are among the best books I’ve ever inhabited…

  4. If you liked Wallender, then you might want to check out Iceland’s big crime writer, Arnaldur Indridason, and his Erlendur series. And also the Rebus books by Ian Rankin of Scotland.

  5. “Sidetracked” was indeed incredible. It ruined most other future thrillers out there for me. Damn you, Mankell!!! *shakes fist*

  6. Another voice in favor of the Larsson books. I thought they were excellent. A friend read them in Swedish, and said his Swedish was eloquent. Trust me, Stieg Larsson is no Dan Brown.

  7. Larsson is no Dan Brown. But, I found the 1st book to be brutal misogynistic porn disguised as feminism. But then, my fellow book club readers lurves Larsson.

  8. Is this a Scandinavian/Icelandic fiction thread? I mean, cool… but not something you stumble across all of the time. I’m 150 in to Dragon Tattoo. I know people like it, I”m just really hoping something actually happens at some point.

  9. I made it through the first chapter of ‘Dragon Tattoo’ and it was so terrible I put it aside. I did watch all three movies. They were OK, but I don’t feel I missed anything by not reading the books.

    I read the first Wallander about the same time you blogged about it. I enjoyed it, but I kept feeling like something was lost in translation.

    The Wallander movies with Kenneth Brannagh (airing in the US via PBS Masterpiece Mystery) are quite good.

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