A crime novel is really not considered serious literature, but this writer is singular, gifted, and resembles Simenon in portraying modern despondency, depression and hopelessness in everyday life; the solving of crimes becomes almost secondary to the portrayal of a given character who observes the situation . No one to my mind has described modern Sweden as he has; a northern European city plagued by urban development, massive immigration, rising delinquency and crime amongst the ruin of traditional life and family ties.The same disaster everywhere brought by globalization and the disintegration of European civilization , which is felt by everyone but rarely expressed in novels of action ( only in learned essays ) . Mankell has created a character, Detective Wallander ,who is not particularly successful, thinks and broods and despairs alone, fails with women , feels inadequate, drinks too much, and is getting fat..he does like his work but hates routine. Now , does that sound like anyone you know ? This is why we love Wallander because of his apparent failure but also because he sees what needs to be seen : impotence in front of social disaster which is nothing next to personal disaster. Hence Mankell books are metaphysical: their meaning is hidden and capital.
The novels on Sweden are without question his best ; the novels on Africa( where the author lives actually) seem less good and this latest one, although fascinating, is also a mixed bag because the plot happens half in Sweden and half in China. The Chinese part is quite terrifying because the criminal is a psychopath Chinese Mafia boss who sits in top governmental circles: It is a bit tall, almost grotesque, and turns practically to caricature since China has now become everyone's favorite mythological beast if prey. Certainly China and its imperialism is monstrous , but can we believe that it desires and plans seriously to colonize Mozambique and export there 6 millions of its poor peasants, even if we know that the politburo at the head of the State fears hysterically the revolt of its impoverished masses?
So, this book is still very good, especially the portrayal of Birgitta Roslin, an honest provincial judge who tries to be fair ,is baffled by a non- communicative husband,and encounters all the troubles of age and its disillusions, becomes sick and afraid of death… but naturally her life being bowled over by some horrific murders in a remote village, becomes suddenly more interesting and quite dangerous . It is the first time that Mankell, I think, tries his hand at a female heroine , furthermore one who is not sexy, nor young, nor particularly brilliant, and it is a great success. We are hooked ; the plot is vast and encompasses generations of Swedes , Americans and Chinese . This writer knows that the average human being, one reasonably intelligent and reflective , is what attracts precisely intelligent readers, especially when this average human is confronted with a major crisis