4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Fast-paced, deceptively weighty entry in the Wallender stakes,
This review is from: Sidetracked: Kurt Wallander (Paperback)"Sidetracked" is the fifth novel in Henning Mankell's best-selling Wallender series and also one of the most acclaimed. Although it clocks in at just over 500 pages, it's nevertheless a breezy, page-turning read from Mankell, who seemed to have fully hit his stride with the dogged detective by the time this was first published in 1995.
The story begins with two devastating events that rip into the tranquil midsummer reverie of Skane in southern Sweden. The first, the suicide of a girl who burns herself to death in a field of rape, is actually witnessed by Wallender himself and will haunt him through the rest of the story. The second is the brutal slaying and scalping of a former government minister that sends shockwaves through a country that is distracting itself with Sweden's progress in the World Cup Finals. It's not clear if or how these two events are linked, but when a second prominent citizen is murdered in a similar manner it becomes clear, at least, that a serial killer is at large, plunging Wallender and his team into a race against time to stop him killing again.
As ever in this series, Mankell's attention to the details of the police procedural are quite mesmerising, and by now he has effortlessly mastered the art of weaving into the narrative the ongoing dramas and trivialities of Wallender's personal life without skipping a beat. In fact, this is a supremely well-paced novel, building to a crescendo of tension that is enhanced rather than diminished by the fact that we know the identity of the killer from a fairly early stage. By revealing more than we might expect, Mankell is able to highlight the flashes of intuition, borne of years of experience, that guide Wallender's hard graft and enable him to discover crucial connections where none could reasonably be expected to exist. For the plot that Wallender uncovers is not simply the freak but isolated violence of a deranged killer, but a sinister web of corruption that involves people-trafficking and sexual exploitation and implicates some of the most privileged members of Swedish society. Enthusiastic readers of Mankell's late compatriot Stieg Larsson may like to compare and contrast the similarity of themes and widely different narrative methods found in the work of the two authors. Certainly "Sidetracked" pre-figures and overlaps with the social concerns of Larsson's work in quite interesting ways.
A strong case could be made to readers new to Wallender to start here, though personally I have preferred to read the series in chronological order. The earlier novels are not the best, but the biography of the central character develops in subtle and touching ways as you get to know him. He's not a particularly glamorous or charismatic leading man, but he has a humanity and a modesty that makes him a most engaging and authentic hero.