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Kurt Plods After Another Serial Killer
on 24 August 2005
This is the sixth book in the Wallander series, and probably the last I'll read for quite a while. The series started out promisingly enough with Faceless Killers, an interesting police procedural plot introducing the reader to the ever-forlorn Wallander and his southern Swedish district. However, subsequent books have strayed into over-the-top thriller areas, including plotlines involving a 14-year-old serial killer (Sidetracked) and the attempted assassination of Nelson Mandela (The White Lioness)! This book returns to the procedural format, although at 450 pages perhaps overdoes it a bit.
Rather oddly, the story begins with the death of a woman in North Africa (presumably Algeria), which apparently gives her daughter the psychic release needed to embark on a series of killings from a list of names. The first of these involves a retired car dealer who falls into a punji-stake trap. Wallander, who has just come back from vacationing with his father in Italy, is once again drawn into an elaborate serial killer's plot. This time, there's very little to go on and as the investigative team attempts to dig into the background of the retired man, it takes a very long time for Wallander to get any traction on the case. Eventually a connection is made with the disappearance of a local florist and his body's subsequent discovery. Still, the pace is excruciatingly slow, even more so than others in the series. When a third body shows up, the motive for the killings is finally deduced, but there's still plenty of work to do in order to piece together the common element that will identify the murderer. As Wallander winnows down the massive amount of forensic, historical, and psychological data, he must also contend with the appearance of citizen vigilante groups and the sudden death of his father, not to mention his own ambivalence about his relationship with long-distance lover Baiba.
Eventually, Wallander's trademark methodical analysis and a little inspiration guide him to the right answer. But by then the reader is pretty exhausted by the whole thing. True, it's realistic to show the massive amount of footwork that it takes to follow up every lead until it dead ends, but since the reader is given access to the killer all the way through, it doesn't make for great tension. It also rings somewhat false that Wallander and the other police are constantly moaning about how brutal the killings are. These are the same police who were dealing with a serial killer scalper a year or two previously, and in Faceless Killers the inciting crime is the brutal bludgeoning murder of an elderly couple! Similarly, for most of the book Wallander completely rules out the notion that a woman could be the killer. This seems like a rather unlikely blind spot, considering that they've just dealt with a serial killer who is barely more than a child in "Sidetracked". As in the other books in the series, Wallander ruminates on the rise of crime in Sweden, and contemplates quitting the police force. All in all, the book is dreary and plodding, and the insights into Swedish society are similar to those given in previous books in the series. Time for something new.