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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 January 2005
I think Henning Mankell is trying to up the ante in the Wallander books. The early books were about criminals, often loners. There was always some connection with national or world issues like immigration or racial tension, but the clever bit was how one small event in Ystad reflected world trends.
Lately though, Mankell is concentrating on more and more unlikely situations to, presumably, give the books a bigger impact. The trouble is, it has the opposite effect.
The last book, 'Firewall', had Ystad at the centre of a bunch of criminals infiltrating a computer network with the intention of world domination. It spoiled the book somewhat. In 'Before the Frost' it's a group of religious fundamentalists (how topical) with a 'grand plan'.
And I think Mankell's problem here is that even he doesn't really know what this grand plan is. So he has trouble describing it. The actions of the fundamentalists are a series of pseudo-symbolic acts, like burning animals, and putting women-who've-had-abortions to death. It's empty stuff, melodramatic, and dull. It doesn't move the plot along and feels like Mankell was struggling with his material.
The rest of the book deals with soon-to-be police officer, Linda Wallander, and her relationship with her father, our beloved Kurt. But even here, the writing is untypically stilted, and there are some downright unbelievable scenes. For instance, Linda has an argument with Kurt at the Police Station and throws a glass ashtray at him, making him bleed profusely. I didn't believe this scene at all. Much of the dialogue in the book, especially between Linda and her father, or Linda and her friends, is highly unrealistic and difficult to voice.
When Mankell gets back to the things he's good at, the novel is fine though. He's good at describing the Skåne landscape. He's phenomenally good at creating tension, suspense and atmosphere. He's good at describing the way the police station works.
'Before the Frost', more than any other Wallander novel, makes you think about what he's not so good at: dialogue is the chief culprit. He's okay when it's police matters, but he just doesn't have an ear for ordinary dialogue like, say, the Norwegian crime writer Karin Fossum, which makes me think it's not just a translation problem.
I'm not sure he's so great at writing from a woman's perspective either. Linda's character is not nearly as compelling nor empathetic as Kurt's. She's at times gloomy, like Kurt, at times childlike, and girly, but rarely realistic. Her previous life events are what define her, and they're like something from a 'build a character' kit. I'm not sure I look forward to the next Linda Wallander mystery.
All these criticisms aside, I still largely enjoyed the book, though I found much of the melodramatic religious stuff tedious. There are moments of great tension and horror, just like in any Mankell crime novel, but it seems to be spread more thinly than usual.
It makes me glad there's a Kurt Wallander novel ('The Man Who Smiled') still untranslated. Somehow I know it'll be better than this.
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on 13 March 2009
Throughout the Wallander series of books, we've watched Linda grow up and play more and more of a role in her father's life. In Before the Frost she finally fulfills her destiny, Star Wars style, and becomes a police officer in Ystad, the Swedish town which has been the backdrop to her father's event-laden career. This book is much more Linda's story than her father's, but sadly she isn't as interesting a character as he is. The story focuses on the disappearance of an old school friend of Linda's, and Linda's attempts to play sleuth when the police aren't interested. As the story unfolds she does a series of fairly stupid and risky things that I found completely infuriating - possibly things that I would have excused if Kurt Wallander had done them, because his world-weary instincts are generally right. As it was, she reminded me of Jack Bauer's daughter in 24, endlessly straying into trouble in order to give the plot a bit of extra jeopardy. Despite this, there's still enough of the pleasingly miserable and introspective Kurt Wallander in this book to make it a worthy addition to the canon, and a good read.
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on 28 June 2013
This is clearly the run up to the Troubled Man which is said to be the last in the series. The introduction of his daughter as a leading character put Wallander in a supporting/paralell role. A good book albeit a bit different from the others in the series. It doesn't have the same level of Wallander angst as earlier books and has less repartition than the Pyramid which is a collection of early cases building to the Faceless Killers.
I am determined to finish the series but am disappointed that the later books seem to be loosing their edge.
Since writing this in late June 2013 I have finished the Troubled Man which is the last of the series as the review comments on the book say.
I feel I need to retract my comments on the "loosing his edge" at least for the last book. The Troubled Man is an excellent read and I really do reccommend reading the series in order to what is a distrurbing and really good climax to the DCI Kurt Wallander stories.
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VINE VOICEon 31 August 2006
I picked this book up by having never heard of the author before. The book was originally written in Swedish and this is an English translation, which doesn't cause any serious problems.

Linda Wallandar is a trainee Swedish police officer following in her father's foot steps (seemingly previous Mankell books have been based on this character). Linda friend Ann gets mixed up in a right wing Christian cult with murderous intentions.

This is a decent crime thriller with an interesting Swedish perspective. Characters are very well developed and although not quite a page turner, the book does happily flow throughout.

Worth investigating - 7/10.
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on 17 September 2010
It makes sense now. I had thought that Linda seemed oddly caught up in her father's every thought and mood. I found it a bit unnatural, but if the author was trying to tie in the father because he is the character readers 'know' it makes a bit more sense.

Another reviewer pointed out that the religious fundamentalism was not conveyed as well as it could have been. So Erik wanted to rid the World of evil people, but we didn't read his full justification for killing those 'evil' people. Sometimes, religious fundamentalists are just so detached from reality, and their 'logic' is so distorted that you are almost chilled to the bone reading what they believe, and yet, their madness seems underpinned by something that you can't effectively argue against. I didn't have that feeling reading this book. Erik and his religious extremist crew weren't giving me the angry shivers.
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on 1 June 2005
Having read several of Mankell's previous works I was looking forward to delving in to this one. Kurt Wallander mysteries are amongst the finest of 'Police procedurals', but I have to admit that I found the first Linda Wallander story somewhat fractured and plodding. May be it's the switch of main character or the religious aspects that underly the antagonists.
Essentially I'd recommend this book to any Mankell fan but for me it didn't quite live up to the eminence of 'Sidetracked' or 'Firewall'.
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VINE VOICEon 3 June 2007
This is my third Henning Mankell novel and it did not disappoint. I liked the change of direction resulting in the involvement of Inspector Kurt Wallander's daughter, Linda. This was like a breath of fresh air after her father's heavy drinking, rather sombre style.

The book starts off at a cracking pace - the mass suicide of over 1,000 people, the death of 4 burning swans and the disappearance of Linda's friend Anna, all within the first 40 pages.

Linda is drawn into the case before she has even started work at the police station due to this involvement of her friend. Needless to say her input is invaluable, if a little unorthodox at times.

The tension mounts as facts begin to merge into a bigger picture and certain people start to show their true colours.

I liked the way facts introduced at the beginning of the book, and subsequently almost forgotten, are gradually incorporated into the whole. I shall certainly continue to search out this author's work.

Interestingly I have just bought a book entitled 'Chronicler of the Winds', by H Mankell. This is a complete change of theme - "a beautifully told fable of the African continent" - and is high on my list of books to read next.
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on 5 April 2006
For better understanding this novel you should have read some previous book of police inspector Kurt Wallander, from Ystad, Sweden. This isn't indispensable, but convenient, as in this novel, Kurt Wallander is older and the real protagonist is his daughter Linda, who after many doubts has chosen to become a also a policewoman.
And well, Henning Mankell continues in his style of offering terrible crimes that happen in these small village, but have world implications. Sweden is a well developed country, very democratic, but perfection isn't from this world, and a society accustomed to much freedom can be very vulnerable, as mankind is unpredictable in his reactions. This is the case, I think real, that some people can hate freedom.
The author exposes Sweden is a country when religion has passed to a secondary background for the majority, but for some people this isn't so, and it should happen these few are more fanatical, active and intelligent, intended all that inside a sort of madness, but a very dangerous one, has it contains much logics.
Some well chosen details explain what happens in Sweden: the girl from the antielectronic society which writes letters manually, the freak girl with piercings but very able in stock exchange, the woman who dedicates his life to find old hidden rural paths in the deep of the forests, another woman, composer of only funeral music... summing up, I think all these are important warning social signals that reveals some degree of social disintegration.
The main plot: Erik Westin a perturbed man with delirium of religious Christian greatness has appertained to the sect of Jim Jones, the terrible chief who ordered a collective suicide in Guyana in 1978. But Jones also deceived the wise although fool Erik, who becomes so a fanatical terrorist. He wants to kill everybody to free Earth from evil. Erik saves life, travels, and in Cleveland, USA, he finds in a deteriorated suburb to Torgeir Langaas, a Norwegian heir of a big fortune from a shipping company of Norway. Torgeir has become scum society, next to death by drugs and alcohol, but Erik has a great knowledge of human beings and recognizes a worth proselyte. Erik helps Torgeir to get out of his toxic manias and converts his senseless life in another with a criminal fanatical aim, but at last, a sense for life he hasn't found in money or drugs. The objetive is to explode several bombs in Sweden, where they are yet several terrorists owing the wisdom for seduction of Erik. Beginning of crimes there, are the unexplainable killing of several classes of animals cruelly burned alive.
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VINE VOICEon 1 June 2005
Henning Mankell has never been scared to let the big bad world and its issues infiltrate the bleak but insular town of Ystad and its surrounds: people trafficking, drug smuggling, computer fraud and gun running have all disturbed the sleepy rhythm of Swedish policing. Now it is the turn of religious fanaticism and the only question in this reviewer's mind is why it has taken so long for Mankell to recognize this particular area. Taking at its starting point the mass suicide of Jim Jones' 'disciples' Before the Frost fast forwards to a credible scenario of what if one of those disciples had survived and decided to carry on the work begun in Jonestown, Guyana.
Mankell's strength has always been the ease with which he can intertwine the plot and the life details of his characters - the irritability of Wallander's father, the irrational lifestyle of his daughter Linda, Wallander's own lonely drinking - and this allows the reader to better imagine the character rather than read the author's photofit desriptions. Mankell, like Colin Dexter and Val McDermid before him, is a master of this device and Before the Frost underlines this; we are not expected to necessarily like Mankell's characters but we are given the opportunity to understand them and the reasons why they act as they do.
Another reviewer drew attention to Mankell's unconvincing dialogue. This, I feel, has always been the author's weakness; technical and procedural information has been second to none, description has been as stark and sparse as the atmosphere warrants but casual dialogue has sometimes come across as contrived and too emotive. However, having read five of the Kurt Wallander books before this I have become used to this and would be suspicious of any attempt by Mankell to correct his style.
Before the Frost contains some of Mankell's most definite and gruesome depictions of crime - the decapitated hands of a victim clasped in prayer, the 'sinner' whose death in a Swedish church is witnessed by her fellow fanatics, the swans on fire at a lake. This is a disturbing and not altogether welcome change of direction for Mankell - previously, a decapitated finger was the gore highlight of a Wallander mystery - and it must be fervently hoped that Mankell is not tempted down the Thomas Harris path otherwise we will have man-eating wolves returning to southern Sweden in time for Linda Wallander's first case as a fully qualified police woman.
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on 9 April 2014
Mankell has developed the Wallander character through a numbe of books to reach this stage. The personal angst of the character running parallel to the crime making Wallander all more human as a result. Its one that could be read as a stand alone and was intended as stepping off point for more stories involving Kurt's daughter Linda. The untimely death of the actress playing Linda in the Swedish films prevented Mankell from writing more of these stories as she embodied the character. A sad event and as sad loss of what might have been for the reader.
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