Synopses & Reviews
The much-anticipated return of Henning Mankell's brilliant, brooding detective, Kurt Wallander.
On a winter day in 2008, Hakan von Enke, a retired high-ranking naval officer, vanishes during his daily walk in a forest near Stockholm. The investigation into his disappearance falls under the jurisdiction of the Stockholm police. It has nothing to do with Wallander — officially. But von Enke is his daughter's future father-in-law. And so, with his inimitable disregard for normal procedure, Wallander is soon interfering in matters that are not his responsibility, making promises he wont keep, telling lies when it suits him — and getting results. But the results hint at elaborate Cold War espionage activities that seem inextricably confounding, even to Wallander, who, in any case, is troubled in more personal ways as well. Negligent of his health, he's become convinced that, having turned sixty, he is on the threshold of senility. Desperate to live up to the hope that a new granddaughter represents, he is continually haunted by his past. And looking toward the future with profound uncertainty, he will have no choice but to come face-to-face with his most intractable adversary: himself.
"It's an unforgettable finale....As satisfying for its emotional depth as its suspense....A gripping mystery." People
"With his new Wallander novel Mankell ups his game and enters John le Carré territory. Not only does The Troubled Man widen the scope of the detective's investigations into the world of international geopolitics and the relationship of Sweden to the U.S. and Russia, it is a work of genuine heft and substance, a melancholy, elegiac book that is thoughtful and perceptive about memory, regret and the unfathomability of human nature....Marvelously astute about behavior and motivation, Mankell has created in Wallander a shambling central character whose unconventional personality is at least as compelling as the crimes he investigates...We can feel Mankell consciously saying goodbye to these people [from Wallander's past] and that he will regret not writing about them as much as we will miss reading about them. Which is more, really, than words can say." Los Angeles Times
"An absorbing and exciting work....The unique nature of The Troubled Man is how its two concerns — the search for the missing ex-officer, and Wallander's emotional history and physical health — run along parallel (sometimes conjoining) tracks....The resulting book is at once richer in personal detail and more suspenseful than either a work of strictly mainstream fiction or a simple police novel could be. Mankell remains in the vanguard of those writers taking the crime story back to its origins in the realistic novel." San Francisco Chronicle
"Wallander makes a riveting [11th] appearance....Though shivering in the winter of his discontent, Wallander will grip the reader hard....He is that rare thing: a true original." Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Masterful....Mankell deftly interweaves the problems of Swedish society with the personal challenges of one man trying to understand what happened and why." Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Arguably Mankell's best Wallander book — which makes the finale for his rule-breaking, overeating, over-drinking, depressed but ultimately good-hearted and righteous detective all the more poignant." The Plain Dealer
"Mankell's prose is as blunt and pragmatic as his hero." The New Yorker
"By far the most personal and poignant in this classic and compulsive series." New York Journal of Books
"Mankell's ability to unspool a mystery and Wallander's ability to solve it are still at the head of the class." Newsday
"A story that rings deep and hinges on personal stakes....It is the voice of the author — through his hero — and the illumination of layers of life in a thankless profession that lead into a delicious abyss of urgency battling with hopelessness, a rationalization of risk versus a reward already buried under a false headstone." The Oregonian
About the Author
Henning Mankell's novels have been translated into forty languages and have sold more than thirty million copies worldwide. He is the first winner of the Ripper Award (the new European prize for crime fiction) and has also received the Glass Key and Golden Dagger awards. His Kurt Wallander mysteries were adapted into a PBS television series starring Kenneth Branagh. Mankell divides his time between Sweden and Mozambique.
Reading Group Guide
The introduction, discussion questions, and suggested further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of The Troubled Man, the final novel in Henning Mankell’s critically acclaimed and best-selling Kurt Wallander series.
1. The prologue to The Troubled Man
concludes by asserting that this will be a story “about the realities of politics, this journey into the swamps where truth and lies are indistinguishable and nothing is clear” [p. 6]. In what ways can the book be read as an extended meditation on truth and lies, the discrepancy between appearance and reality?
2. Wallander is a very sympathetic and compelling character, yet as he appears in The Troubled Man he might not seem the most engaging protagonist. He’s sixty and in poor health, he’s forgetful, often irritable, and growing ever more obsessed with death. What makes him such an appealing character in spite of all this? What makes him unique? In what ways is he a kind of everyman?
3. Linda asks her father: “What does anybody ever know about another person? Isn’t that what you’re always reminding me of? Telling me never to be surprised?” [p. 265]. In what ways does the novel dramatize how difficult it is to ever really know another person? What are its most surprising revelations?
4. Wallander thinks that if “he had been a von Wallander, with a coat of arms and family motto, those were the words he would have chosen: sink or swim. That’s the way it had always been througout his life” [p. 173]. Why would Wallander choose “sink or swim” as his motto? How does it characterize his actions, his stance toward life and his detective work in particular?
5. Wallander carefully gathers evidence and works his way through it in an orderly, logical way. But he also relies on intution. At what junctures does his intution guide him in the right direction?
6. Wallander lets himself be decieved by Håkan. Does he fail to see through Håkan’s lies simply because Håkan is a good liar or is his failure partly due to his declining mental abilities? Should he have suspected Håkan earlier than he did? Why is he so willing to believe Håkan’s lies?
7. Why does Baiba’s death affect Wallander so profoundly?
8. How does Mankell manage to find the right balance between intriguing and frustrating his readers? Is it possible to discover the truth along with Wallander? Does Mankell give readers enough, or nearly enough, clues to solve the puzzle on their own?
9. Speaking of the weariness that comes from doing police work, Ytterberg asks Wallander: “How do we manage to survive it all?” Wallander replies: “I don’t know. Some sort of feeling of responsibility, I suspect. I once had a mentor, an old detective named Rydberg. That’s what he always used to say. It was a matter of responsibility, nothing more” [p. 203]. Why is this sense of responsibility so important to Wallander? To what does he feel responsible? What emotional and psychological toll does being a detective take on him?
10. What is the irony of Walander having Nordlander spy on the conversation in which Håkan admits he is a spy? Is Wallander himself aware of this irony?
11. Wallander is repeatedly frustrated by lies and deceptions in his quest to learn the truth about Håkan and Louise van Enke. And yet when he does finally discover the truth, he conceals it and deceives those who most wish to know it: Linda and Hans. What are his motives for keeping the truth a secret? Is he right to do so? Is the anonymous report he sends to Ytterberg enough? Where else does he lie in the novel?
12. In the afterword, Mankell writes that, while The Troubled Man is a work of fiction, “the most important things in this book are built on the solid foundation of reality.” That being the case, what does the novel suggest about the political realities of the Cold War? How surprising is it to learn of America’s spying on Sweden? What does the novel imply about espionage in our own time?
13. This may be the most intimate of the Wallander novels. What aspects of Wallander’s personal life are most compelling and poignant in The Troubled Man? In what ways is Wallander himself, rather than the mystery he’s trying to solve, the most engaging aspect of the novel?
14. Why might Mankell have chosen to end his Wallander series in this rather melancholy way, with Wallander losing his memory, fearing death, living in loneliness and finally sinking into Alzheimer’s? Is this a more fitting way to close the series than a more triumphant or dramatic ending would have been?
15. What has made Henning Mankell such a distinctive writer in the genre?