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Before the Frost (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)by Henning Mankell
Reading Group Guide
1. What kind of woman is Linda Wallander? In what ways is she both like and unlike her father? What is the appeal of reading about a policewoman in a genre dominated by men?
2. How does Before the Frost illuminate the growing religious violence around the world, from the Christian Rights bombing of abortion clinics here in the United States to the Islamic fundamentalists campaign of terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere? What does the novel reveal about the motives and psychology of religious extremists?
3. In what ways does Linda Wallander prove herself throughout the novel? At which crucial moments does her willingness to trust her intuition enable her to make breakthroughs in the case? Could the case have been solved without Linda?
4. Throughout the novel, the reader knows more than the detectives who are trying to solve the case. Why does Mankell structure his narrative this way? Why doesnt he leave readers in the dark? How does this tension between what readers know and what the characters know create suspense?
5. Some religious believers have long felt that direct communication with God is the highest form of spirituality. What does Before the Frost reveal about the dangers of claiming to know Gods will?
6. Erik Westin thinks, “Im not crazy. . . . I put my trust in God and his plan” [p. 249]. And at the end of the novel Linda and her father conclude that Westin “was by no means a madman” [p. 365]. What is the difference between fanaticism and insanity? How closely linked are those traits in people like Erik Westin?
7. Late in the novel, Erik Westin says, “I could not have managed this without the help of Jim Jones” [p. 312]. What has he learned from Jones?
8. Why are Anna Westin, Tolgeir Langaas, and others so susceptible to people like Erik Westin? What do their lives lack that makes them long for something to believe in and an authority to submit to?
9. Linda finally sees that the mysterious phrase “myth fear” that she found in Annas journal was simply an anagram for “my father.” What is the significance of this anagram? What does “myth fear” have to do with Annas father? How do myth and fear operate in the novel?
10. How can Before the Frost be read as an exploration of the father-child relationship? How does Linda feel about her father? How does Anna feel about hers? How does Kurt Wallander feel about his own father? What does the novel as a whole seem to be saying about the significance of these relationships?
11. Henning Mankells novels are unusual in their exploration of emotional complexities, so that the crime-solving aspects of the stories are balanced by rich and full character development. How is this achieved? What does this element add to the story?
12. At the end of the novel, the police officers gather around the TV to see a special report on the terrorist attacks that have just happened in New York on September 11, 2001. Why doesnt Mankell show readers their reaction or elaborate on the parallels between 9/11 and the religious violence occurring almost simultaneously in Sweden? What are those parallels?
13. When Linda hugs the desperate woman who she talked down from a rooftop, she had “the strangest feeling that she was hugging herself” [p. 374]. Why does Mankell end the novel with this episode? What kind of resolution does Linda achieve in this embrace?
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