Sunday, February 09, 2020

The Pyramid (1999)

Here's a small problem with series of novels, or maybe we should call them franchises because TV, movies, and even short stories can suffer the problem too. The Wikipedia article on Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander series notes that this collection of long stories comes first in terms of a chronological order. But that's only by the settings of these stories (so-called), which are "early cases" ranging from as far back as 1969 to just before the action of Faceless Killers, the first Wallander novel. This collection is a reasonably big book and there are only five stories; they're not exactly short stories in any conventional sense. The shortest run around 30 pages and the longest goes some 160. They are more like episodes from novels, with blunted climaxes. So The Pyramid may be the first one to read in terms of a strict timeline. I jumped it ahead of the rest after I learned that. But I don't think it's the way to go. These stories presume more previous knowledge of the series than I had, such as Wallander's relationships with his father, wife, and daughter. They often display what I call Revenge of the Sith syndrome, by which I mean a prequel too concerned by far with continuities, crossing the t's and dotting the i's of known details. The last story here, the title story and longest, actually takes us to the morning of the first day in Faceless Killers. That's way too cute for me. While these stories open some interesting windows into Wallander's character, more often they feel padded out and just a little wearied of the project. "The Pyramid," the long story, is built around an unnecessary scene with his father, which adds little to our understanding of either character and bogs down a crime investigation right in the middle. Not that there is much to these investigations, which are pro forma at best, and uninspired. I admit, at this point, I have reached a certain level of comfort or familiarity with Wallander and Mankell. I like the police detective Wallander, a gruff and impatient investigator with a moral compass and good instincts, a taste for opera, and all the frustrations of modern Western life. In this era when short stories have become virtually antiquated, perhaps Mankell was simply better as a novelist. I would say this should be read in publication order, and it's probably for completists only.

In case it's not at the library.

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