The Fifth Woman (Anglais) CD – Livre audio, 1 mai 2012
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Just after 10 p.m. he finally finished. The last stanzas had been difficult to write; they took him a long time. He had wanted to achieve a melancholy, yet beautiful expression. Several attempts were consigned to the wastepaper basket. Twice he'd been close to giving up altogether, but now the poem lay before him on the table--his lament for the middle spotted woodpecker, which had almost disappeared from Sweden. It hadn't been seen in the country since the early 1980s--one more species soon to be wiped out by humankind.
He got up from his desk and stretched. With every passing year, it was harder and harder to sit bent over his writings for hours on end.
An old man shouldn't be writing poems, he thought. When you're 78 years old, your thoughts are of little use to anyone. But at the same time, he knew this was wrong. It was only in the Western world that old people were viewed with indulgence or contemptuous sympathy. In other cultures, age was respected as the period of enlightened wisdom. He would go on writing poems as long as he could lift a pen and his mind was clear. He was not capable of much else. A long time ago he had been a car dealer, the most successful in the region. He was known as a tough negotiator. He had certainly sold a lot of cars. During the good years he had owned branches in Tomelilla and Sjöbo. He had made a fortune large enough to allow him to live in some style. But it was his poetry that really mattered to him. The verses lying on the table gave him a rare satisfaction.
He drew the curtains across the picture windows that faced the fields rolling down towards the sea, which lay out of sight. He went over to his bookshelf. He had published nine volumes of poetry. There they stood, in a row. None of them had sold more than a single, small printing. Not more than 300 copies. The unsold copies were in cardboard boxes in the basement. They were his pride and joy, although he had long ago decided to burn them one day. He would carry the cardboard boxes out to the courtyard and put a match to them. The day he received his death sentence, whether from a doctor or from a premonition that his life would soon be over, he would rid himself of the thin volumes that no-one wanted to buy. No-one would throw them onto a rubbish heap.
He looked at the books on the shelf. He had been reading poems his whole life, and he had memorised many. He had no illusions; his poems were not the best ever written, but they weren't the worst, either. In each of his volumes, published roughly every five years since the late 1940s, there were stanzas that could stand beside the best. But he had been a car dealer by profession, not a poet. His poems were not reviewed on the cultural pages. He hadn't received any literary awards. And his books had been printed at his own expense. He had sent his first collection to the big publishing houses in Stockholm. They came back with curt rejections on pre-printed forms. One editor had taken the trouble to make a personal comment. Nobody would want to read poems that were only about birds. The spiritual life of the white wagtail is of no interest, the editor had written.
After that, he wasted no more time on publishers. He paid for publication himself: simple covers, nothing lavish. The words between were what mattered. In spite of everything, many people had read his poems over the years, and many of them had expressed their appreciation to him. Now he had written a new one, about the middle spotted woodpecker, a lovely bird no longer seen in Sweden.
The bird poet, he thought. Almost everything I've written is about birds: the flapping of wings, the rushing in the night, a lone mating call somewhere in the distance. In the world of birds I have found a reflection of the innermost secrets of life.
He picked up the sheet of paper. The last stanza had worked. He put the paper back on the desk. He felt a sharp pain in his back as he crossed the large room. Was he getting sick? Every day he listened for signs that his body had begun to betray him. He had stayed in good shape throughout his life. He had never smoked, always eating and drinking in moderation. This regime had endowed him with good health. But soon he would be 80. The end of his allotted time was approaching. He went out to the kitchen and poured himself a cup of coffee from the coffee machine, which was always on.
The poem he had finished writing filled him with both sadness and joy. The autumn of my years, he thought. An apt name. Everything I write could be the last. And it's September. It's autumn. On the calendar and in my life.
He carried his coffee back to the living room. He sat down carefully in one of the brown leather armchairs that had kept him company for 40 years. He had bought them to celebrate his triumph when he was awarded the Volkswagen franchise for southern Sweden. On the table next to his armrest stood the photograph of Werner, the Alsatian that he missed more than all the other dogs that had accompanied him through life. To grow old was to grow lonely. The people who filled your life died off. Even your dogs vanished into the shadows. Soon he would be alone. At a certain point in life, everyone was. Recently he had tried to write a poem about that idea, but he could never seem to finish it. Maybe he ought to try again. But birds were what he knew how to write about. Not people. Birds he could understand. People were unfathomable. Had he ever truly known himself? Writing poems about something he didn't understand would be like trespassing.
He closed his eyes and suddenly remembered "The 10,000-krona Question" TV programme of the late 1950s, or maybe it was the early 1960s. TV was still black-and-white back then. A cross-eyed young man with slicked-back hair had chosen the topic "Birds". He answered all the questions and received his cheque for 10,000 kronor, an incredible sum in those days.
He had not been sitting in the television studio, in the booth with headphones on. He had been sitting in this very same armchair. He too had known all the answers, and not once did he even need extra time to think. But he didn't win 10,000 kronor. Nobody knew of his vast knowledge of birds. He just went on writing his poems.
A noise woke him with a start from his daydream. He listened in the darkened room. Was there someone in the courtyard? He pushed away the thought. It was his imagination. Getting old meant suffering from anxiety. He had good locks on his doors. He kept a shotgun in his bedroom upstairs, and he had a revolver close at hand in a kitchen drawer. If any intruders came to this isolated farmhouse just north of Ystad, he could defend himself. And he wouldn't hesitate to do so.
He got up from his chair. There was another sharp twinge in his back.
The pain came and went in waves. He set his coffee cup on the kitchen bench and looked at his watch. Almost 11 p.m. It was time to go. He squinted at the thermometer outside the kitchen window and saw it was 7°C. The barometer was rising. A slight breeze from the southwest was passing over Skåne. The conditions were ideal, he thought. Tonight the flight would be to the south. The migrating birds would pass overhead in their thousands, borne on invisible wings. He wouldn't be able to see them, but he'd feel them out there in the dark, high above. For more than 50 years he had spent countless autumn nights out in the fields, experiencing the sensation of the birds passing. Often it had seemed as though the whole sky was on the move.
Whole orchestras of silent songbirds would be leaving before the approaching winter, heading for warmer climes. The urge to move on was innate, and their ability to navigate by the stars and the earth's gravity kept them on course. They sought out the favourable winds, they had fattened themselves up over the summer, and they could stay aloft for hour after hour. A whole night sky, vibrating with wings, was beginning its annual pilgrimage towards Mecca.
What was a lonely, earthbound old man compared to a night flyer? He had often thought of this as the performance of a sacred act. His own autumnal high mass, as he stood there in the dark, sensing the departure of the migratory birds. And then, when spring came, he was there to welcome them back. Their migration was his religion.
He went out into the hall and stood with one hand on the coat hooks. Then he went back to the living room and pulled on the jumper lying on a stool by the desk. Along with all the other vexations, getting old meant that he got cold more quickly.
Once more he looked at the poem lying there finished on the desk. Maybe he would live long enough to put together enough poems for a tenth and final collection. He had already decided on the title: High Mass in the Night.
He went back to the hall, put on his jacket, and pulled a cap over his head. He opened the front door. Outside, the autumn air was redolent with the smell of wet clay. He closed the door behind him and let his eyes grow accustomed to the dark. The garden seemed desolate. In the distance he could see the glow of the lights of Ystad. He lived so far from his other neighbours that this was the only source of light. The sky was almost clear, and filled with stars. A few clouds were visible on the horizon. Tonight the migration was bound to pass over his property.
He set off. His farmhouse was old, with three wings. The fourth had burned down early in the century. He spent a lot of money renovating the building, although the work was still not completed. He would leave it all to the Cultural Association in Lund. He had never been married, never had any children. He sold cars and got rich. He had dogs. And then birds.
I have no regrets, he thought, as he followed the path down to the tower he had built himself. I regret nothing, since it is meaningless to regret.
It was a beautiful September night. Still, something was making him uneasy. He stopped on the path and listened, but all he could hear was the soft sighing of the wind. He kept walking. Could it be the pain that was worrying him, those sudden sharp pains in his back? The worry was prompted by something inside him.
He stopped again and turned around. Nothing there. He was alone. The path sloped downwards, leading to a slight rise. Just before the rise there was a broad ditch over which he had placed a bridge. At the top of the rise stood his tower. He wondered how many times he had walked this path. He knew every bend, every hollow. And yet he walked slowly and cautiously. He didn't want to risk falling and breaking his leg. Old people's bones grew brittle, he knew that. If he wound up in the hospital with a broken hip he would die, unable to endure lying idle in a hospital bed. He would start worrying about his life. And then nothing could save him.
An owl hooted. Somewhere close by, a twig snapped. The sound had come from the grove just past the hillock on which his tower stood. He stood motionless, all his senses alert. The owl hooted again. Then all was silent once more. He grumbled under his breath, and continued.
Old and scared, he muttered. Afraid of ghosts and afraid of the dark. Now he could see the tower. A black silhouette against the night sky. In 20 metres he would be at the bridge crossing the deep ditch. He kept walking. The owl was gone. A tawny owl, he thought. No doubt about it, it was a tawny owl.
Suddenly he came to a halt. He had reached the bridge that led over the ditch.
There was something about the tower on the hill. Something was different. He squinted, trying to see the details in the dark. He couldn't make out what it was. But something had changed.
I'm imagining things, he thought. Everything's the same as always. The tower I built ten years ago hasn't changed. It's just my eyesight getting blurry, that's all. He took another step, out onto the bridge, and felt the planks beneath his feet. He kept staring at the tower.
There's something wrong, he thought. I'd swear it was a metre higher than it was last night. Or else it's all a dream, and I'm looking at myself standing up there in the tower.
The moment the thought occurred to him, he knew it was true. There was someone up in the tower. A silhouette, motionless. A twinge of fear passed through him, like a lone gust of wind. Then anger. Somebody was trespassing on his property, climbing his tower without asking him for permission. It was probably a poacher hunting the deer that grazed around the grove on the other side of the hill. It couldn't be another bird-watcher.
He called out to the figure in the tower. No reply, no movement. Again he grew uncertain. His eyes must be deceiving him; they were so blurry.
He called again. No answer. He started to walk across the bridge.
When the planks gave way he fell headlong. He pitched forwards and didn't even have time to stretch out his arms to break his fall. The ditch was more than two metres deep.
He felt a hideous pain. It came out of nowhere and cut right through him, like red-hot spears piercing his body. The pain was so intense he couldn't even scream. Just before he died he realised that he had never reached the bottom of the ditch. He remained suspended in his own pain.
His last thought was of the migrating birds, somewhere far above him. The sky moving towards the south.
One last time he tried to tear himself away from the pain. Then it was all over.
It was 11.20 p.m. on 21 September 1994. That night, huge flocks of thrushes and red-winged blackbirds were flying south.
They came from the north and set a southwest course over Falsterbo Point, heading for the warmth that awaited them, far away.
When all was quiet, she made her way carefully down the tower steps. She shone her torch into the ditch. Holger Eriksson was dead. She switched off the torch and stood still in the darkness. Then she walked quickly away.
Just after 5 a.m. on Monday, 26 September, Kurt Wallander woke in his flat on Mariagatan in central Ystad. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .
Revue de presse
"Sweden's lord of criminal misrule" (Independent)
"By far the best writer of police mysteries today" (Michael Ondaatje)
"The novels become a compulsion - one reads them all" (Daily Telegraph)
"The real test of thrillers of this kind is whether you want to spend more time in the detective's company. I certainly do" (Sean French Independent) --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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As the book opens, a woman receives information that her mother has been murdered along with four nuns in an African convent, the crime hushed up. Then an old man who writes bird poetry is impaled on sharpened bamboo stakes embedded in a ditch on his property while the woman watches from his bird tower.
Wallander, just home from a pleasant trip to Italy with his father, a rejuvenation of their taciturn relationship, investigates a break-in at a flower shop from which nothing was taken, receives reports of a growing vigilante militia movement and eventually discovers the body of the bird poet. Meanwhile the reader learns that the flower shop proprietor is a captive, slowly starving. He is missing more than a week - supposedly on an orchid-buying trip - before anyone realizes.
The grisly narrative builds slowly, in plain, unhurried cadences. The fits, starts and frustrations of police procedure mingle with Wallander's concerns for his father and plans for a future with his lover, Baiba - all against a thrum of background tension - the bound, terrified man, the woman ticking off plans on a meticulous schedule, selecting her next victim.
As the murder count rises, Wallander and his team delve into the background of the victims, uncovering dark secrets, making tenuous connections, inching toward a solution that horrifies them all. Mankell's ("Fearless Killers," "Sidetracked") plot organization and pacing is masterful and his perplexing, atmospheric story is all the more gripping delivered in measured, understated prose.
The three things I noticed that bind all three authors in their works are: 1) the Swedish people's dislike and distrust of the police, 2) the chill and loneliness that seems to pervade human relationships, and 3) police inspectors who are brilliant, meticulous, conscientious, introspective and given to depression. These Swedish police procedurals are not a barrel of laughs, but rather they are thoughtful, well written, and original.
"The Fifth Woman" starts out with the murders in Africa of 4 nuns and a female visitor. The rest of the novel takes place with these murders' ramifications in Sweden where a serial killer is dispatching men, each very differently. The title refers not only to the 5th woman murdered in Africa, but also the 5th woman in Sweden who leads police inspector, Kurt Wallander, to the Swedish serial murderer.
American police procedurals tend to reveal more murder motives from the get-go. In this novel the motive is a core plot element and isn't revealed until later in the book. The reader also knows a few things about the killer early in the book that the police don't know and it is fascinating to watch the police reach the "same place in the book" as the reader. I was reading a well regarded American mystery writer and stopped the book to read "The Fifth Woman". When I returned to the American book after finishing Mankell's opus, it was sophmoric in comparison. This is a book for the serious mystery reader and well worth the effort.
Wallander and his staff begin looking for an apparent serial killer. However, to the shock of the Inspector, evidence points towards a female culprit. While the law enforcement officials struggle to switch paradigms, the killer becomes angrier, more hateful, bolder and deadlier. Even Wallander wonders if the killer can truly be a genius and a lunatic at the same time?
THE FIFTH WOMAN is the fourth Wallander tale to come to the States and like its predecessors is a fine police investigative novel. The story line slowly evolves as the audience spends much time inside the minds of Wallander and his foe. This turns the who-done-it into more of a psychological thriller than a typical serial killer investigation normally is. Not for anyone who wants fast-paced in your face action, Henning Mankell provides those readers who enjoy a more gradual speed with a wonderful police procedural.
Rather oddly, the story begins with the death of a woman in North Africa (presumably Algeria), which apparently gives her daughter the psychic release needed to embark on a series of killings from a list of names. The first of these involves a retired car dealer who falls into a punji-stake trap. Wallander, who has just come back from vacationing with his father in Italy, is once again drawn into an elaborate serial killer's plot. This time, there's very little to go on and as the investigative team attempts to dig into the background of the retired man, it takes a very long time for Wallander to get any traction on the case. Eventually a connection is made with the disappearance of a local florist and his body's subsequent discovery. Still, the pace is excruciatingly slow, even more so than others in the series. When a third body shows up, the motive for the killings is finally deduced, but there's still plenty of work to do in order to piece together the common element that will identify the murderer. As Wallander winnows down the massive amount of forensic, historical, and psychological data, he must also contend with the appearance of citizen vigilante groups and the sudden death of his father, not to mention his own ambivalence about his relationship with long-distance lover Baiba.
Eventually, Wallander's trademark methodical analysis and a little inspiration guide him to the right answer. But by then the reader is pretty exhausted by the whole thing. True, it's realistic to show the massive amount of footwork that it takes to follow up every lead until it dead ends, but since the reader is given access to the killer all the way through, it doesn't make for great tension. It also rings somewhat false that Wallander and the other police are constantly moaning about how brutal the killings are. These are the same police who were dealing with a serial killer scalper a year or two previously, and in Faceless Killers the inciting crime is the brutal bludgeoning murder of an elderly couple! Similarly, for most of the book Wallander completely rules out the notion that a woman could be the killer. This seems like a rather unlikely blind spot, considering that they've just dealt with a serial killer who is barely more than a child in "Sidetracked". As in the other books in the series, Wallander ruminates on the rise of crime in Sweden, and contemplates quitting the police force. All in all, the book is dreary and plodding, and the insights into Swedish society are similar to those given in previous books in the series. Time for something new.