Henning Mankell, Wallander author and Nordic noir exponent, dies

Mankell explored the dark side of Sweden, challenging its image as a low-crime society

Swedish writer Henning Mankell, author of the Inspector Wallander novels, has died at the age of 67, his publisher has said. The novelist had been suffering from cancer.

“He passed away quietly last night in the wake of disease,” publisher Leopard Forlag said on its website.

It is sad, but somehow apt, that Mankell has died during the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.  There was always something autumnal about his best-known fictional creation: the brooding, introspective Inspector Kurt Wallander, who is often to be found wandering the windswept shorelines of southeast Sweden, wondering why he became a police investigator in the first place.

Wallander was an unlikely poster boy for a new literary genre. Yet this depressive anti-hero got the English-speaking world hooked on Scandinavian crime fiction, transforming Nordic noir from an exotic oddity to a staple, not only of our bookshelves, but also of our TV screens.

In person Mankell was the opposite of his droopy detective.

Ebullient and politically outspoken, he was a lifelong left-wing activist who gave large sums of money to African charities and whose views on social justice were at the heart of his writing.  

His 13 Wallander books range across a variety of topics, from the legacy of Nazism to the exploitation of immigrants. But their theme is always the same: whether the “Swedish model” of social democracy remains viable in a world of globalised criminal activity and disintegrating personal values. Mankell also wrote 13 stand-alone novels, eight children’s books and a whopping 44 plays.

Three of Mankell’s best:

Sidetracked

(1999)

A serial killer is scalping successful elderly men, and a young woman from the Dominican Republic sets herself on fire: not a barrel of laughs, perhaps, but the fifth in the Wallander series won Mankell a crime fiction Gold Dagger in 2001.

Italian Shoes

(2006)

Written in the first person, this elegiac standalone novel features an orthopaedic surgeon who withdraws to a small icebound island with only his cat and dog for company, only to find he has an unexpected visitor.

The Troubled Man

(2011)

The final Wallander book has elements of a traditional spy thriller. It opens with the disappearance of a Swedish naval officer, and closes (spoiler alert) with the detective succumbing to Alzheimer’s.

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