THE TROUBLED MAN

by Henning Mankell

(Harvill Secker, £17.99)

To say that British readers have been impatient for this (sadly) final outing for Mankell’s gloomy Swedish copper is something of an understatement – not least because the Kurt Wallander franchise has been kept in rude health by the appearance of not one but three TV incarnations of the detective: two Swedish series and the recent Kenneth Branagh version. But Mankell fans know that what really counts is what Wallander’s creator put on the page – everything else is a gloss. And here is that final book. Does it write a suitable ‘finis’ to the series?

With The Troubled Man, Mankell must have known that he had to deliver something really special – and that is precisely what he has done; this is a perfect valedictory novel (if, that is, we believe that Mankell won’t find some way to reactivate his hero). The Ystad copper has, as usual, personal problems, not least trying to come to terms with his daughter Linda’s pregnancy by a man he finds unsympathetic. (Linda’s new lover, Hans, is a highly paid banker, and Mankell fans will know precisely what to make of that – though, against the odds, Hans turns out to be a likeable man.) The detective’s professional life is as fraught as ever. A body is found (suicide or murder?), and Wallander learns of several enigmatic disappearances, somehow connected with a series of incidents in the 1980s when Russian submarines were found in Swedish territorial waters. There are also rumours of a high-level spy infiltrated by the Soviets in a position of power in the Swedish military. What is the involvement of the parents of Linda’s new inamorato? (Hans’ father is a retired submarine officer.) None of this skulduggery is really Wallander’s territory, but he bludgeons his way in, behaving in customary cavalier fashion. Standard procedure is jettisoned, and his health ignored, even as he frets about encroaching age.

The really good news is that The Troubled Man is Henning Mankell (almost) at his best (ably translated, as ever, by the much-respected Laurie Thompson); fears that the final appearance of a beloved character would be something of an anti-climax are quickly banished, and it appears that Mankell has worked very hard to ensure that his customary storytelling engines are firing on all cylinders, delivering one of the richest experiences in the Wallander canon. He was never easy company, but we’ll miss this depressive, rule-breaking policeman.

BARRY FORSHAW

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