Faceless Killers, by Henning Mankell

Vintage, 2008, 304 pages.

Faceless Killers is the first in the Inspector Wallander Mystery series by Henning Mankell (a Swedish writer) and won the Glass Key (an award for nordic crime writers). Although it was originally published in 1991, it wasn’t until 1997 that it was translated into English and since it has been made into a TV series in both Sweden and England.

The book starts with the gruesome murder of an elderly couple. Excessive violence has been used with no apparent motive. Inspector Wallander takes up the case determined to uncover the perpetrator. Wallander is forced to consider whether it could be a random and senseless act of violence or else find a reason why someone would want to harm a seemingly helpless old couple.

While I enjoyed reading Faceless Killers, I can’t say that it blew me away. It is possible that my expectations of this book were overinflated after hearing lots of good things about Mankell, but there were a few things that I felt didn’t work for me. For some reason I just didn’t really like the character of Inspector Wallander. Although he is described well and embellished with a number of interesting character flaws, for some reason I found I couldn’t empathize with him. However this may be just a matter of personal taste.

**Beware spoilers in the next two paragraphs**

One of leads that Wallander has is that somehow a ‘foreigner’ may be involved in the murder, and issues of racism and xenophobia are quite integral to the storyline. This was quite fascinating from the point of view of a discussion of societal problems in 1990’s Sweden. I also found it interesting that people are still having the same conversations about asylum seekers today, which made this content feel very relevant and up to date despite it’s age. However, at times I did feel as if the point was slightly laboured – as if the story was a vehicle for the point Mankell was trying to make.

The biggest problem with the plot for me was that, I like crime novels to provide the jigsaw pieces, string me out till the end, and then reveal a solution that I probably should have seen all along. For me the ‘reveal’ in Faceless Killers was too unrelated – not part of the puzzle. I also found the last bit of the story very rushed and wrapped up a little too neatly.

Having said that Faceless Killers is an enjoyable and very well-written crime novel. I wouldn’t necessarily be put off from reading other books in the Wallander series, which I imagine give you more of an insight into the inspector’s character and I suspect are probably stronger plot-wise.

My rating:

6 out of 10

Have you read any other books in the series and if so, do you think I should try another one?

9 responses to “Faceless Killers, by Henning Mankell

  1. Pingback: Holiday Reads | Novel Insights

  2. I daren’t read your review for fear of accidentally reading the spoilers (I’ll be too tempted to read on!). I haven’t read any Henning Mankell yet but the score of 6/10 makes me feel I’m not missing anything too much although I would like to give him a go at some point. I love my crime fiction and I am really enjoying scandanavian crime fic at the moment too.

    • Lol. Yes reading the spoilers might make you more apathetic. To be fair I’m probably being a little harsh as I had high expectations, but I really wasn’t that amazed… I’m going to read my other Larsson’s soon though so definitely haven’t given up on Scandinavian crime fiction!

  3. I got a copy free with a magazine years back and read it then…I remember being slightly disappointed with the reveal, it didn’t make a huge impact on me and haven’t read any others.

    Quite taken with the cover on your copy of The Bachelors, who is the illustrator?

  4. I want to know too whether it’s worth reading any more in the series! I had really high expectations about this one and didn’t think it was half as good as, say, any of the Martin Beck series (Sjöwall & Wahlöö). Incidentally, are there any happy policemen in Nordic fiction?!!

  5. I’m replying to all the comments here, as well as the blog: Mankell himself doesn’t like Wallander all that much. I recommend Mankell’s One Step Behind–it will satisfy your cravings. Norwegian Karin Fossum has a series, which includes Don’t Look Back, where the inspector isn’t *as* glum or *as* flawed.

    • Thanks for your thoughts dogsear, I’d never thought that the author might not like his creation much! I’ll have a look for Karin Fossum next time I’m in the bookshop.

      • Oh, Sweden’s Camilla Läckberg is great, too–her debut was The Ice Princess. It’s is a very well-written mystery. I strongly recommend it. You will not regret picking it up nor will you figure out the whodunit midway through the book. The characters are well-developed and very three-dimensional–the protagonist is a 35-year-old woman named Erica Falck–and the locale, Fjällbacka, a small fishing village, comes to life as do all the peripheral characters. Erica has her issues—because don’t we all–but she’s probably in better shape than some of the others we’ve mentioned here.

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