Review: Before the Frost by Henning Mankell

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BeforeTheFrostBefore the Frost by Henning Mankell (The New Press, 2005)

Blurb: In this latest atmospheric thriller, Kurt Wallander and his daughter Linda join forces to search for a religious fanatic on a murder spree. Just graduated from the police academy, Linda Wallander returns to Skåne to join the police force, and she already shows all the hallmarks of her father–the maverick approach, the flaring temper. Before she even starts work she becomes embroiled in the case of her childhood friend Anna, who has inexplicably disappeared. As the case her father is working on dovetails with her own, something far more dangerous than either could have imagined begins to emerge. They soon find themselves forced to confront a group of extremists bent on punishing the world’s sinners.

 

Henning Mankell is, for me, a hit-and-miss writer. While I’ve enjoyed the Wallander series (about a detective in Ystad), I haven’t particularly liked his other novels. Mankell tends to focus on the darkest aspects of the human psyche, and without the narrative device of the investigator (Kurt or, in this case, Linda Wallander), I can’t find much positive to hold on to, which is why I avoid the non-Wallander books these days. I would definitely recommend reading the other books in Wallander series before this one, as this appears to be a changing of the guard more than the start of a new series.

This book is told mostly from the perspective of Wallander’s adult daughter Linda, who has just finished her police training and is weeks away from becoming an official member of the police force. But her best friend’s disappearance is followed quickly by the murder of an elderly woman and a series of seemingly unrelated, bizarre events, and she’s soon convinced that the events are all linked—and despite her father’s admonishments, she decides to investigate. Being a rookie, she makes all manner of mistakes, but she’s got the support of her father, who is willing to listen to her conclusions and, once presented with the evidence, starts an official police inquiry.

The portrayal of the relationship between Kurt and Linda is uneven. Having read so much from Kurt’s point of view as he worked through his relationships with his ex-wife and with his own father, I enjoyed having another perspective. But some of Linda’s reflections on her father seemed less the thoughts of a daughter about a parent and more the thoughts of a parent about a misunderstood child, as though Mankell wanted to correct readers’ misperceptions of Kurt Wallander.

My reaction to this book is in some part an emotional response to the bookend device Mankell chose for its structure. The two events referenced are mass murders done for religious reasons: in Jonestown, Guyana, on November 18, 1978, and on September 11, 2001. Religious fundamentalism is a global issue, but to me it was a bit jarring to have these two events—the victims of both of which were overwhelmingly American—used as the link for a story about a very small cult in Sweden. This is not to say that it was inappropriate; it wasn’t, and it was well done, but for me it just didn’t work.

 

My rating: 3 stars

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2 responses »

  1. Hi there. You should try Henning Mankell’s ‘The Man From Beijing’ and ‘Depths’ for two really riveting but diverse reads. The first deals with an investigation of a bizarre crime; the latter the strange story of a navy man. Both will keep you hooked to the end. Have fun!

    • HI there! I have read Depths and didn’t particularly care for it. I have The Man From Beijing on my “to read” shelf but have been putting it off. Guess it’s time to read it!

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