Faceless Killers: A Mystery (Anglais) Relié – mars 1997
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He has forgotten something, he knows that for sure when he wakes up. Something he dreamt during the night. Something he ought to remember. He tries to remember. But sleep is like a black hole. A well that reveals nothing of its contents.
At least I didn’t dream about the bulls, he thinks. Then I would have been hot and sweaty, as if I had suffered through a fever during the night. This time the bulls left me in peace.
He lies still in the darkness and listens. His wife’s breathing at his side is so faint that he can scarcely hear it. One of these mornings she’ll be lying dead beside me and I won’t even notice, he thinks. Or maybe it’ll be me. Daybreak will reveal that one of us has been left all alone. He checks the clock on the table next to the bed. The hands glow and register 4:45 a.m.
Why did I wake up? he asks himself. Usually I sleep till 5:30. I’ve done that for more than forty years. Why did I wake now? He listens to the darkness and suddenly he is wide-awake. Something is different. Something has changed. He stretches out one hand tentatively until he touches his wife’s face. With his fingertips he can feel that she’s warm. So she’s not dead. Neither of them has been left alone yet. He listens intently to the darkness.
The horse, he thinks. She’s not neighing. That’s why I woke up. Normally the mare whinnies at night. I hear it without waking up, and in my subconscious I know that I can keep on sleeping. Carefully he gets up from the creaky bed. For forty years they’ve owned it. It was the only piece of furniture they bought when they got married. It’s also the only bed they’ll ever have. He can feel his left knee aching as he crosses the wooden floor to the window.
I’m old, he thinks. Old and worn out. Every morning when I wake up I’m surprised all over again that I’m seventy years old. He looks out into the winter night. It’s January 7, 1990, and no snow has fallen in Skåne this winter. The lamp outside the kitchen door casts its glow across the yard, the bare chestnut tree, and the fields beyond. He squints towards the neighbouring farm where the Lövgrens live. The long, low, white house is dark. The stable in the corner against the farmhouse has a pale yellow lamp above its black door. That’s where the mare stands in her stall, and that’s where she whinnies uneasily at night when something disturbs her. He listens to the darkness. The bed creaks behind him.
“What are you doing?” mutters his wife.
“Go back to sleep,” he replies. “I’m just stretching my legs.”
“Is your knee hurting again?”
“Then come back to bed. Don’t stand there freezing, you’ll catch cold.”
He hears her turn over onto her side. Once we loved each other, he thinks. But he shields himself from his own thought. That’s too noble a word. Love. It’s not for the likes of us. Someone who has been a farmer for more than forty years, who has worked every day bowed over the heavy Scanian clay, does not use the word “love” when he talks about his wife. In our lives, love has always been something totally different.
He looks at the neighbour’s house, peering, trying to penetrate the darkness of the winter night. Whinny, he thinks. Whinny in your stall so I know that everything’s all right. So I can lie down under the quilt for a little while longer. A retired, crippled farmer’s day is long and dreary enough as it is.
He realises that he’s looking at the kitchen window of the neighbour’s house. All these years he has cast an occasional glance at his neighbour’s window. Now something looks different. Or is it just the darkness that’s confusing him? He blinks and counts to twenty to rest his eyes. Then he looks at the window again, and now he’s sure that it’s open. A window that has always been closed at night is open. And the mare hasn’t whinnied at all.
The mare hasn’t whinnied because Lövgren hasn’t taken his usual nightly walk to the stable when his prostate acts up and drives him out of his warm bed.
I’m just imagining things, he says to himself. My eyes are cloudy. Everything is as it always is. After all, what could happen here? In the village of Lunnarp, just north of Kade Lake, on the way to beautiful Krageholm Lake, right in the heart of Skåne? Nothing ever happens here. Time stands still in this village where life flows along like a creek without vigour or intent. The only people who live here are a few old farmers who have sold or leased out their land to someone else. We live here and wait for the inevitable.
He looks at the kitchen window once more, and thinks that neither Maria nor Johannes Lövgren would fail to close it. With age comes a sense of dread; there are more and more locks, and -no one forgets to close a window before nightfall. To grow old is to live in fear. The dread of something menacing that you felt when you were a child returns when you get old.
I could get dressed and go out, he thinks. Hobble through the yard with the winter wind in my face, up to the fence that separates our properties. I could see close to that I’m just imagining things.
But he doesn’t move. Soon Johannes will be getting out of bed to make coffee. First he’ll turn on the light in the bathroom, then the light in the kitchen. Everything will be the way it always is.
He stands by the window and realises that he’s freezing. He thinks about Maria and Johannes. We’ve had a marriage with them too, he thinks, as neighbours and as farmers. We’ve helped each other, shared the hardships and the bad years. But we’ve shared the good times too. Together we’ve celebrated Midsummer and eaten Christmas dinner. Our children ran back and forth between the two farms as if they belonged to both. And now we’re sharing the -long--drawn--out years of old age.
Without knowing why, he opens the window, carefully so as not to wake Hanna. He holds on tight to the latch so that the gusty winter wind won’t tear it out of his hand. But the night is completely calm, and he recalls that the weather report on the radio had said nothing about a storm approaching over the Scanian plain.
The starry sky is clear, and it is very cold. He is just about to close the window again when he thinks he hears a sound. He listens and turns, with his left ear towards the open window. His good ear, not his right that was damaged by all the time he spent cooped up in stuffy, rumbling tractors.
A bird, he thinks. A night bird calling. Suddenly he is afraid. Out of nowhere fear appears and seizes him. It sounds like somebody shouting. In despair, trying to be heard. A voice that knows it has to penetrate thick stone walls to catch the attention of the neighbours.
I’m imagining things, he thinks. There’s nobody shouting. Who would it be? He shuts the window so hard that it makes a flowerpot jump, and Hanna wakes up.
“What are you doing?” she says, and he can hear that she’s annoyed.
As he replies, he feels sure. The terror is real.
“The mare isn’t whinnying,” he says, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “And the Lövgrens’ kitchen window is wide open. And someone is shouting.”
She sits up in bed.
“What did you say?”
He doesn’t want to answer, but now he’s sure that it wasn’t a bird that he heard.
“It’s Johannes or Maria,” he says. “One of them is calling for help.”
She gets out of bed and goes over to the window. Big and wide, she stands there in her white nightgown and looks out into the dark.
“The kitchen window isn’t open,” she whispers. “It’s smashed.”
He goes over to her, and now he’s so cold that he’s shaking.
“There’s someone shouting for help,” she says, and her voice quavers.
“What should we do?”
“Go over there,” she replies. “Hurry up!”
“But what if it’s dangerous?”
“Aren’t we going to help our best friends?”
He dresses quickly, takes the torch from the kitchen cupboard next to the corks and coffee cans. Outside, the clay is frozen under his feet. When he turns around he catches a glimpse of Hanna in the window. At the fence he stops. Everything is quiet. Now he can see that the kitchen window is broken. Cautiously he climbs over the low fence and approaches the white house. But no voice calls to him.
I am just imagining things, he thinks. I’m an old man who can’t figure out what’s really happening anymore. Maybe I did dream about the bulls last night. The bulls that I would dream were charging towards me when I was a boy, making me realise that someday I would die.
Then he hears the cry. It’s weak, more like a moan. It’s Maria. He goes over to the bedroom window and peeks cautiously through the gap between the curtain and the window frame.
Suddenly he knows that Johannes is dead. He shines his torch inside and blinks hard before he forces himself to look. Maria is crumpled up on the floor, tied to a chair. Her face is bloody and her false teeth lie broken on her spattered nightgown. All he can see of Johannes is a foot. The rest of his body is hidden by the curtain.
He limps back and climbs over the fence again. His knee aches as he stumbles desperately across the frozen clay. First he calls the police. Then he takes his crowbar from a closet that smells of mothballs.
“Wait here,” he tells Hanna. “You don’t need to see this.”
“What happened?” she asks with tears of fright in her eyes.
“I don’t know,” he says. “But I woke up because the mare wasn’t neighing in the night. I know that for sure.”
It is January 7, 1990. Not yet dawn. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Poche .
Revue de presse
"Mankell is one of the most ingenious crime writers around. Highly recommended" (Observer)
"Mankell is in the first division of crime writing" (The Times)
"An excellent thriller" (Independent)
"By far the best writer of police mysteries today" (Michael Ondaatje) --Ce texte fait référence à une édition épuisée ou non disponible de ce titre.
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Crédit photo : Lina Ikse
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Je recommande ce livre à tous les amoureux des polars.
Unfortunately Mankell's books do not encourage one to visit Skane. Sad.
Et si vous aimer le genre "roman policier nordique" et bien vous aller adorer ...
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As the story opens, an elderly farmer discovers that his neighbors, also elderly, have been attacked. The husband has been gruesomely tortured and killed and his wife left for dead. Before she dies in the hospital, her last word is "foreign." With anti-immigrant sentiment running high already, the last thing the police need is for this to slip out to the media, but someone in the department leaks the information and suddenly refugee camps in the area are being firebombed. When a Somali refugee is killed, seemingly at random, Wallander and his men have two difficult cases to untangle.
This was a very strong mystery, with a great central character and careful attention to settings. Wallander is cut from the same cloth as John Rebus and Alan Banks. He's struggling with loneliness after his wife has unexpectedly left him and his close ties with his daughter have been severed. He has to deal with an aging, possibly senile, father and his attraction to the new female district attorney who is filling in on an interim basis, and who happens to be married. Plus, he's drinking too much and putting on weight due to a steady diet of pizza and fast food.
Wallander is a compelling character who spends much of his time brooding about the state of the world and the state of his society and, interestingly, he seems to have some sympathy for the anti-immigrant mentality. He's concerned that just about anyone can come to the country and request asylum, even crooks and shady characters. And, the way the system is painted in the book, with officials unsure of where to locate specific refugees, etc., we can see how the task of the police is made much more difficult than it need be. But tracking down the murderer of the Somali refugee is his job and he does it, even when a former policeman seems to have some connection to the crime.
A very interesting mystery and one that held my attention throughout. Even though the murders which open the book seem to be impossible to solve, Wallander will not let them go. He sticks to the investigation, which drags on for quite a long time, and finally sees it through. I will definitely be reading more books in this series. Highly recommended.
With the chief out of town, Wallender spearheads the investigation into the apparently motiveless crime, while at the same time struggling to cope with his disintegrating personal life. His wife has just left him, his teenage daughter is estranged from him, and his aging father gives new meaning to the word cantankerous. It doesn't help that Wallender eats junk food for meals and drinks himself to sleep. Soon a firebombing of a refugee camp increases the pressure for a quick solution, and then a Somali is shotgunned to death, making for even more problems. Despite the best efforts of Wallender's team, they just can't seem to get anywhere as the months drag on. The breakthrough that leads to the solution seems to come out of nowhere, but it works nonetheless.
The story is written in prose that can perhaps best be described as methodical, and when combined with the bleak weather, it ably captures the reserved nature of Scandinavia. The immigration issue is handled fairly well and raises difficult questions. Wallender, probably like most of his countrymen, finds himself troubled by the situation and straddling the fence in many ways. Alas, other than Wallender, who himself is a borderline parody of a middle-aged alcoholic mess of a cop, the characters aren't developed very much. One gets the sense that some, such as his father, daughter, and the new prosecutor will be developed in the future, but his colleagues all blend together in a faceless mass. This is a disappointment, for as sympathetic a character as Wallender is, he can't really carry the book on his own. Hopefully future installments will see a more well-rounded cast of supporting characters. Still, the procedural aspect is very good and the overall atmosphere will be interesting to those who like crime novels from foreign climes.
Note: The book was made into a 3 1/2 hour mini-series for Swedish television in 1994 which is apparently unavailable in English.
This is the first in Mankell's Inspector Wallander series. Set in rural Sweden it is a police procedural. The opening chapters of the novel are gripping. It begins with a vicious murder to which Wallander is called. There are few clues, other than the last word of the second murder victim, "Foreigners". When news of this leaks out Wallander is drawn into a series of racially motivated incidents, and investigations around camps holding asylum seekers.
The tension is built up well in the first half of the novel, and the investigation of the murder, and the racial incidents, maintains high interest. The second half of the novel is more slackly paced, the denouement slightly disappointing.
Wallander is a fascinating character, and while the novel is third person narrative, so much is written from Wallander's perspective that the novel might as well be in the first person. Wallander is not the most likeable of characters. He has a strained relationship with his father and daughter, has recently separated, and falls into a number of stereotypes as the "loner" cop. Wallander's flaws, his racism (his observations on asylum seekers, for example), and his misogyny, for example, create a rounded well-drawn character. You may not like Wallander but so crafted is the character that his motivation is comprehensible.
However, the depth given to Wallander means that supporting characters suffer. Wallander's father - never satisfied, slightly ill-tempered, and suffering from a serious illness - has potential to be an interesting character, but seems instead to act as a checkbox to note Wallander's famly troubles. Others have a poorer fate. The prosecutor (and putative lust interest) Ms Brolin is one character that seems particularly flat. So ill-drawn are some of the characters that one wonders if a first person narrative may suit Mankell more, allowing Wallander the depth, and giving the excuse of Wallander's perception of others to justify their poorer treatment.
With this flaw, Wallander's work reminds me more of RD Wingfield's Frost series than Rankin's Rebus - where incidental characters tend to be fleshed out.
Most serious flaw in the novel, though, is the translation. Mankell's prose is rendered in a stilted manner, with a number of glaring grammatical problems. Mankell seems ill-served by a tin-eared translation.
This was an enjoyable novel, that started very well, but tailed off towards its conclusion. Wallander is a character I would like to see more of, and I intend to read other books of Mankell's. The series does hold much promise. But if you're looking for the new Ian Rankin try elsewhere (e.g. Denise Mina).
Ah, how accurately the book portrays Sweden with the little in the middle of nowhere towns. There are so few police in Sweden, especially during the summer, that it is an exciting treat for little kids to see a police car.
I don't normally read murder mysteries and have little to compare it to, but I enjoyed the book and recommend it. Flawed characters are more interesting than perfect, predictable ones but I couldn't help but squirm as I read about Kurt Wallander falling apart after his divorce and making a fool out of himself trying to snag a married woman. This was very true to life, no contrived little romance, but featured a depressed policeman who turns increasingly to alcohol as he misses his estranged wife and daughter.
I notice that I've written more about the setting than the actual plot. But I assume that the plot is typical for a murder mystery. But if you have been to rural Sweden or are interested in it than this will be a good read for you as it accurately captures the feel of being there. Sweden loves anyone who gains recognition for Sweden and draws attention to it so Henning Mankell is pretty huge there and Abba is still constantly on the radio. Winning an olymic gold medal in curling was headline news for a long time (until the gold in hockey). Henning Mankell's sucess is exciting for the Swedish nation of 9 million. If you are a fan of mysteries, then spice it up a little by reading this series that has an "exotic" setting.
Hmm.. I'm a bit dubious as to the quality of this review, a bit too much rambling perhaps.
This writer does two things so very well. First, he lets a police officer solve the crime instead of your favorite hair dresser, your local librarian, your garbage collector or-- and there seems to be a plethora of these-- a college English professor. Secondly he makes the character of Kurt Wallander so complex and human that we root for him and care about him deeply. His wife has just left him and will not return. He has a bumpy relationship with both his daughter who as a teenaager attempted suicide and his aging father. A colleague is dying. He drinks too much, doesn't eat healthy. The world is changing and he has difficulty changing with it. He understands loneliness. And he listens to opera-- Jussi Bjorling, Maria Callas. How can you not like him?
The crime here is brutal and a difficult one to solve. An elderly husband and wife out in the Swedish countryside are savagely murdered on a cold winter night. "To grow old is to live in fear. The dread of something menacing that you felt when you were a child returns when you get old." There are precious few clues and no apparent motive.
As always Mankell writes about social issues. This time it is the plight of the refugees pouring across Sweden's borders. Sound familiar to U. S. readers?
Henning Mankell is one of our best crime writers. His works are often much better written than so-called literary novels.