Sun
Sep 9 2012 11:00am

The Troubled... Fan?: For the Love of Wallander

The Troubled Man by Henning MankellHenning Mankell had every right to end his Kurt Wallander series when and how he wanted to. But couldn’t he have thought of Wallander’s loyal and long time fans, just a little? Thrown us a Scandinavian bone? We’ve had to accept that The Troubled Man was the last Wallander novel instead of expecting three or four more.

Wasn’t that enough?

Mankell wrote in his final book of the Kurt Wallander series, The Troubled Man, published in English last year:

“Wallander suddenly felt terrified. His memory had deserted him again. He didn’t know who the girl running toward him was. He knew he’d seen her before, but what her name was or what she was doing in his house he had no idea.

“It was as if everything had fallen silent. As if all colors had faded away and all he was left with was black and white.

“The shadow grew more intense. And Kurt Wallander slowly descended into darkness that some years later transported him into the empty universe known as Alzheimer’s disease.

“After that there is nothing more . . .”

The little girl he couldn’t recognize was his cherished granddaughter, Klara.

Is this any way to treat Mankell’s globally beloved character?

As a writer, I search for the characteristics that endear Wallander to us. We love Wallander, for instance, not because he does everything right, just the opposite. He’s a flawed individual like the rest of us. But this “antihero” is the top detective for the police department of Ystad, Sweden, and a brilliant crime solver. Throughout his nineteen fictional years, translated into forty languages, a distraught Wallander has taken personally battling espionage, white slavery, misogynists, an attempt to assassinate Nelson Mandela, corruption in the Balkan state of Latvia, persecution of immigrants in Sweden, an attempt to destroy all the world’s computers, and apprehending serial killers before they strike again, to name a few of his challenges.

We love him even more when he throws caution to the wind altogether. In The Man Who Smiled he’s sprinting through a crowded airport flailing his gun creating panic with terrified people fleeing from him in every direction. But action was necessary to catch the international criminal who sold human organs and was about to take off in his private plane and disappear forever.

 This wild scene puts a smile on my face because one never knows what Inspector Wallander will do to apprehend a criminal, such as breaking all the police procedural rules, defying his superiors at the department, and no matter the price to his life and limb.

You can always count on Wallander to get the bad guy. But as a result of his dedication to crime fighting, Wallander’s personal life is in shambles.

His wife Mona, divorces him, his daughter, Linda, often scolds him for being thoughtless and not seeing more of his own failing father, an artist who paints the same painting 7,000 times and who dies of Alzheimer’s disease. But not before Wallander accompanies him on a trip to Rome in The Fifth Woman.

I’ve known many people, real and fictional, who have done far less for their fathers.

He’s reckless with his diet. He’s overweight and, at times, drinks too much, and exercise is an empty promise he makes to himself on a regular basis. When he finally becomes a diabetic, he’s ashamed of it and tries to hide it in One Step Behind. He promises himself that he’ll start a new and healthy routine, but, again, the public’s safety trumps his health and his relationships.

As a result, he never finds another love to live with for the rest of his life. He is afraid of ending up alone with the exception of visits from his daughter and former visiting colleagues “who had suddenly remembered that” he “was still alive.”

 You have to chuckle at lines like that because Mankell blatantly delivers the unvarnished truth of the frailties of human existence. I don’t think they are meant to make us laugh, but I do laugh. I also love it when Wallander, in a fit of roiling frustration and usually during a meeting at the station regarding a troubling case, slams his hand down on a table just for relief without saying a word.

Faceless Killers by Henning MankellIn The Troubled Man, Wallander is fifty-five, when he gets a house with a view of the sea and a dog, both of which he’s dreamed of for years. After living happily there for four years, his daughter announces that she is pregnant. This changes Wallander’s life forever, according to Mankell. Wallander almost tells his colleagues of “the great joy he has just been gifted with.But he doesn’t share his “great joy” because it is his nature to keep his private life to himself.

I don’t recall that Wallander experiences much “joy” in any of the other nine books, starting from the first in the series, Faceless Killers, which, it is said, sets the example for Scandinavian noir.

Wallander is just about sixty or so when his creator tells us that he’ll spend the last ten years or so of his life sinking slowly into nothingness.

Are we to accept that noir bleakness for this globally loved character without a peep? Just at the moment in life when Wallander finally finds “joy” and could have time to spend with his family?

 Didn’t Wallander earn at least a decade of happy retirement in relative good health, and without being at times “terrified?” Shouldn’t he be gazing at Skåne sunrises and sunsets and building a sandcastle or two with his granddaughter?

I have found my own peace of sorts. As a writer, I will continue to reread Wallander until the end of my sunsets watching the master storyteller weave his Scandinavian yarns, and Wallander will continue never to disappoint.

But I ask you, how would you have ended the fictional life of the dutiful, brave, and brooding Inspector Kurt Wallander?


See the other Wallander content on Criminal Element.


Dorothy Hayes is the author of Murder at the P&Z, due out in 2013 from Mainly Murder Press. She’s been known to blog at Women of Mystery.

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9 comments
1. MaureenMulligan
Wallander and his author can be very satisfied to have inspired a fan such as yourself, Ms. Hayes,, and that is quite a satisfying end in itself. Like readers who have fallen in love/like with characters/authors such as Shakespeare & his gang, Lord Peter, Richard Jury, Walt Longmire, Sam Spade, Robin Hood, Perry Mason, James Joyce, Jesse Stone, various Prince Charmings/Good Guys, etc. across time and through fiction travel in books, you have already added the ending love factor to Wallander's life- whether others ever read about it or not.
I think that people have untravelled threads and loves in their lives that never end up in chapters, photograph albums or family Bibles, and that is part of the wonderful fabric of life. It doesn't end up tidily for fiction characters no matter how true they may ring, anymore than it does for the rest of us. Many others may read his books now based on your article and your obvious fondness for "this globally loved" character (I am thinking about it) and so you, Ms. Hayes, may have added that extra 10 years of life for him as more readers love him and his dogged nobility and reread his escapades also. :^) Please excuse typos-break time is up!
2. DRKaye
I read the final Wallander book last year and the ending really depressed me for weeks. I thought is was a sad and mean way for Wallander to go after all he had been through. It still makes me feel bad. A pox on you, Henning Mankell!
3. Eloise Swenson
I completely agree with Ms. Hayes. Kurt Wallander was given such an ignomious ending to his life that I felt as if he had been thrown to the dogs, so to speak, by the author. I can understand how an author might grow tired of a character he has created and written about numerous times, but us fans deserved a better ending for this fictional character that we truly liked despite his brooding ways. I was resentful of Wallender's rapid decline into dementia and death. I wish we could get a rewrite, but I guess what's done is done. Darn.
4. xy
Since when is Latvia a Balkan state?

Control your facts before posting anything like this.
5. Stephan Moons
I am a great fan of Wallander and discovered yesterday by coincidence that the last TV season is currently being broadcast in Belgium. Of course, I immediately tuned in, but decided fairly soon that I shall not watch the coming episodes. I simply can't stand the decline of my TV hero. Of course it is up to Mankell to decide what he does with his fictitious character, but I prefer to remember Kurt Wallander in a positive way. The Swedish seem to have a fondness for sad endings, leaving their spectators depressed. Similar in The Bridge where the son of one of the main characters is 'almost' saved but dies anyway... I agree that life will happen, but isn't that exactly why we need a fictitious positive boost now and then? Yet, I shall remain addicted to the great Scandinavian TV series.
6. Roni
His going from Alzheimers was hinted at with his father's own last years and passing so frankly I expected this to happen to him too in the first season. Life is life and how we go can be good or bad or ugly no mtter how we have lived. It is what we have left behind that is important. Mr. Wallander left much for those behind to learn from. I will miss him from the bottom of my heart but will accept the choice made by his creator.
7. Rosemary
What I find really baffling is the inconsistencies of the stories from one series to another. What happened to the lady prosecutor in the last series? I can't understand how Wallander's daughter has suddenly reappeared after all either. I 've read the last book too, and I can't bear to watch this series I'm afraid. I also miss the other characters from the police station in Ystad: they were a very satisfactory team .
8. Menomuna
Wrt Latvia; obviously Latvia is a BALTIC state... but I can see how mixup may occur. Wouldn't read too much into this slip.
9. Robert Gregory Browne
Mankell certainly has a right to do what he wishes with a character, but to do this to one who is so beloved is cruel to the readers.
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