Sunday, December 13, 2020

The Fifth Woman (1996)

I'm calling the sixth Kurt Wallander mystery by Henning Mankell one of the best in the series. As always, it's totally engrossing nearly from start to finish. And, also once again, there's more evidence for what a master of plot Mankell is. Some of the elements may rankle a little. The brutality of the crimes is first on that list—so grotesque here they finally begin to verge on parody. Especially when they start to eat at Wallander from the inside out, as they often do. As they would anyone, obviously, including many readers. Mankell does not exactly "play fair" in this one, tipping us early to who the killer is. We see some scenes from the killer's view, which also gives us information, but the specific identity of this culprit is not that important. If Wallander is a link between Martin Beck and Stieg Larsson's trilogy, and he might be, here is where the theme of misogyny and its various fruits first really shows up. For once I don't want to give too much away as the details of this one are there to be discovered. But the primary focus here is specifically on many of the ill ways men treat women, and they are never isolated cases. We should know it's going on constantly, as police officers are likely to know well themselves. In a way, Wallander represents a type of social complacency, a police detective who can still be shocked and deeply disturbed by what he witnesses, and yet is unable to generalize it somehow and so is never quite hardened to his job. He remains an interesting character for all his flaws and the increasing use of him as a superhero (the girl with the dragon tattoo herself, Lisbeth Salander, practically arrives as a superhero). This novel also includes significant developments in Wallander's life, which can be affecting even though more and more I think that kind of stuff only clutters up some of these narratives. Another thing I noticed here is how good Mankell is on time passing. We get a nice sense that we are seeing the life of a man as he passes through his 40s. This kind of keeping faith with real time is tricky business in any continuing series and among other things Mankell is doing much better at that than many others.

In case the library is closed due to pandemic.

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