Thursday, April 21, 2011

"The Troubled Man" by Henning Mankell

It seems the spy business hasn't closed down with the end of the Cold War.  In Mankell's final Wallander novel, the aging detective solves his last case before  sliding into early-onset dementia.  The plot moves along at a lively pace and involves Wallander's daughter Linda, also a police officer.  Actually, it is her partner's parents who are the nexus of the plot, which involves spy networks dating back decades.  But interesting as the action of the novel is, it is Wallander's own state of being that most concerns this reader.  Kurt is an old 60, who fears the approach of old age and death.  He is not reconciled with any of the important people in his life, except for his daughter, and their relationship remains prickly.  If there is anything heroic about him, it is his persistence.  Even when he feels unwell and is supposedly on vacation, he travels wherever the case leads him and follows it to its bloody conclusion. 

We like our heroes to be human in this day and age.  The braggadocio of an Achilles or a Hector, when seen in a contemporary light, is more often taken as a sign of mental disorder.  Kurt Wallander is, as we say, married to his job, but he lacks confidence and always wonders if he's missing something.  He has few friends, drinks too much, lives in an isolated farmhouse, and is closest to his dog Jussi.  I picture his world in shades of grey, with a cold rain on a bad day.  The melancholy atmosphere suits the story and the people in it, yet it is not oppressive.  Perhaps it's knowing that the world I live in is more brightly colored than Kurt's that allows me to contemplate his bleak canvas with equanimity.