Sunday, July 27, 2008

Like the Meatballs.

There is nothing better than discovering a new author. Especially one who’s been around for a little while and has a whole SHELF full of books for you to read. It’s even better if the author is not dead, thus ensuring the supply of books will continue, at least for a while. I’m sad to say that Margaret Laurence and Robertson Davies both died the year I started reading their books – something I sincerely hope I have no responsibility for.

The very first book on the List (I finished it on January 2) was by the Swedish mystery author Henning Mankell. I read a review of one of his most recent books in the Globe and Mail’s Books section (which I adore) and went to the library in search of anything by this author. The Globe mystery book lady and I are frequently on the same page, as it were; she helps me satisfy one of my other book-related vices, British detective novels. (In fact right now I’m reading Elizabeth George’s new one, Careless in Red, although I know that she is not in fact British and therefore it probably doesn’t count. For myself, I think it only doesn’t count if I don’t like the book, and while George has been going steadily downhill for a number of years I’m willing to give her a chance based on our long and fruitful relationship.)

So there I was in the library faced with a huge number of books by this Swedish detective author, and I thought… why not? This could be fun. A fling, as it were.

Well, dear reader, a love affair was born in that moment. Books #1, 6, 8, 13, 22, 42, 44, 60 and 127 attest to that.

I don’t know what it is I love so much about this writer, particularly his Kurt Wallander series. I think it’s maybe that Sweden is just a little different than Canada – different enough to be exotic while similar enough to be familiar. Landscape is treated in a similar manner to how Canadian authors deal with it, as something that constantly needs to be taken into account. Mankell’s writing is lovely, especially the precision of Wallander’s voice. (It’s 22 degrees Celsius outside, so Wallander decides to open the window. He walks across the square to the police station, a distance of 17 metres.) The books are murder mysteries, but Mankell doesn’t get carried away by blood and gore; his detectives are real people with their own richly developed lives.

The detectives who are talking about the case eat sandwiches together while they unravel the complexities of the Swedish criminal mind. They are civilized people who are doing their best in a very Scandinavian way. Mankell has brought Africa into a number of his books (apparently he’s very involved in a theatre company of some sort in Mozambique) and it’s a credit to him that I don’t mind visiting Africa when I very clearly signed up for Sweden.

Maybe I like these books because Wallander is such a lonely man, with his grown up daughter and his ex wife and his best friend and mentor who died. He is so real to me that I care for him even when he’s unreasonable and irritating; even when he does something that I don’t understand. Somehow I trust that he’ll get there in the end, and take me with him.

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