The Pyramid: The Origins of Kurt Wallander Paperback – Oct 6 2009
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"To his legions of North American readers, Henning Mankell is the unrivalled master of Swedish crime fiction and one of the finest practitioners of the genre anywhere."
— Toronto Star
"A marvel of spare, purposeful prose and artful storytelling."
— St. Petersburg Times
"Superb. . . . Mankell has mastered his craft."
— Tampa Bay Tribune
"Sure to bring [Mankell's] fans stampeding back into the fold."
— The New York Times
About the Author
Internationally bestselling novelist and playwright HENNING MANKELL has received the German Tolerance Prize and the U.K.'s Golden Dagger Award and has been nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize three times. His Kurt Wallander mysteries have been published in thirty-three countries and consistently top the bestseller lists in Europe. He divides his time between Sweden and Maputo, Mozambique, where he has worked as the director of Teatro Avenida since 1985.See all Product Description
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Wallender is a likable, and mildly conflicted, guy. We see him age twenty years over the course of these stories, and the reader can't help notice, by the end of the book, that Wallender is suffering middle-age angst, accompanied by doubts about the future of Swedish culture in a world of increasing drug traffic and violence. The character of Kurt Wallender is the best reason for picking this book up, along with interest in northern European culture and day-to-day life. Indeed, these stories are full of Wallender's daily living (e.g., the man has to sign up to do his laundry in his building's only washing machine; remembering to buy toilet paper in the course of a busy investigation is another minor challenge). There's plenty of realism here, and I like that; Wallender and his police work end up seeming real. He's not a super hero.
My one complaint, though, is that the stories frequently seem hurried (perhaps evenly poorly thought out) in their conclusions. Wallender faces physical violence, sometimes almost out of the blue, in the last page or two, followed by a quick explanation of who committed the crime and why. (The worst example of this is found in the final pages of "The Death of the Photographer," where Wallender briefs his police colleagues on how the crime was committed and what motivated the perpetrator. The scene is all too reminiscent of cozy mysteries where the detective shares his wisdom at the very end of the story. An odd way to end a story that is, like the other stories in the book, otherwise a police procedural.)
If you're looking for suspenseful plotting, this might not be the best choice. If, on the other hand, you want to live for a while in the mind of a low-key, hard-working Swedish cop, and you enjoy a book that is strong on atmosphere and setting, you will likely want to pour yourself a good cup of coffee and dig into this collection. (For my part, I plan to pick up Faceless Killers, Mankell's first Wallender novel, in the next week or two.)
Mankell's Wallander crime books were first published in Sweden in 1991 and in English in 1997. His first volume involved a Wallander case in 1990 when Wallander was a senior detective 42 years old. After completing eight full-length Wallander novels, and after receiving requests from his readers, Mankell decided to write short stories telling the early tales of his detective. These five stories were collected in The Pyramid.
The first, Wallander's First Case, begins in 1969 when Wallander is twenty. He takes a job as a patrolman against the strong mocking objections of his eccentric father. He wants to be a detective. He works hard and spends hours learning the ropes to impress his superiors. He has a girl friend who constantly criticizes him for being late, even though she knows that he is late because of his job. He lives in an apartment with thin walls and hears a gun shot. He is told by the detectives that his neighbor committed suicide. He feels that he must investigate to find out what really occurred even though the detective in charge insists that he not do so. Readers read asking themselves many questions. Will his actions stymie his goal to be a detective? Will he solve the case? What strange people will he encounter? Why do people dislike patrolmen? Why is he stabbed?
The second story is The Man with the Mask. It is 1975. Wallander is now a detective and married to his girl friend. She is still complaining that he is always late. When he is leaving to go home, his superior sends him to a store to investigate whether a woman who called the police saying that there is a strange man outside her store is in danger. Wallander finds the woman dead. He is hit on the head and tied up. When he regains consciousness, he sees a man with a hood holding a gun. Why is the man there? Why did he kill the woman? Does he want to kill the detective? How can Wallendar save himself?
The Man on the Beach is the third tale. It is 1987. Wallander is having serious problems with his wife. He expects a divorce. A man takes a taxi from a beach back to town. When the ride is over, the driver discovers that the man is dead. The coroner says he died of poison. When was it administered? Why? Who did it? Why was the man at the beach?
The Death of a Photographer, the fourth story, occurs in 1988 when Wallendar is forty. A photographer, who was estranged from his wife for twenty years, although both lived in the same house, is clubbed to death. He had taken pictures of prominent people, mostly politicians, and distorted them, making the faces recognizable but ugly. One picture is of Wallendar who is revolted at what he sees. Why did the photographer do this? Is he crazy? Why did he garble Wallander's face? Are the distortions related to his murder?
The Pyramid is the longest of the five tales. It is 1989. Wallendar is divorced. He is involved in a case of a small plane crash where two smugglers are killed. Later more people are killed, including two erasable spinster women who run a small sowing shop but have millions in the bank and in stocks. Is there more than one crime? Can Wallendar solve everything?
In the first story, Wallender is a twenty-one-year rookie cop who finds his next door neighbor dead, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He's not convinced that the man committed suicide and investigates on his own, showing the perseverance and insight that will eventually lead him to become a detective.
The next exciting story takes place a few years later. Wallendar, now a detective, confronts a robber who has murdered a store owner on Christmas Eve. With the killer pointing a gun at him, Wallender must stay alive by keeping the killer talking until help arrives.
In the third story, a taxi driver finds that his passenger has died in the back seat of his cab. It first appears that the man had a heart attack, but it turns out that he was poisoned. Wallender investigates to find out where the victim was coming from and why he was murdered.
The next story is about a photographer who has been found beaten to death in his studio. Wallender finds a strange album, where the photographer has created distorted images of politicians and other leaders. Could this have something to do with his murder?
In the last story, a plane, which is flying low at night to avoid radar, drops something onto a remote field. A short time later, the plane crashes, killing both smugglers. Then two spinster sisters who own a button store are murdered and it turns out that they were somehow immensely wealthy. When a drug dealer is found shot and the bullet matches the bullets that killed sisters, Wallender has to connect all these people and events together to solve the puzzle. Then, in the middle of the investigation, he has to fly to Egypt to rescue his father who has been arrested for illegally attempting to climb a pyramid.
Throughout the stories, Mankell fills in a lot of other background that readers had been asking for. We meet Wallender's wife, Mona, his daughter, Linda, and see him divorced. We learn about his relationship with his father and his attitude towards Swedish society. Now that I have this background, I look forward to reading the first published book in the series, "Faceless Killers".
The first story is not one of his best, and it seems to show both Mankell and Wallender early in their development, as the 20-something sleuth, a recent addition to the police force, begins going his own way by pursuing an unauthorized investigation into the mysterious murder of an uncommunicative neighbor. The second story is more of a vignette than a detective story, and brings in the issue of immigration to Sweden. "The Man on the Beach" takes a look at the unexpected disappearance of an ordinary man as he goes to pay a mysterious visit to someone. This seems to be a recurring circumstance in Mankell's fiction - a seemingly normal, colorless individual is shown to be unexpectedly involved in something criminal or in some way twisted. This occurs in "The Death 'of a Photographer", a more involved piece in which a comfortable, married town photographer is found murdered one evening while engaging in his favorite hobby - making weirdly distorted prints of famous people and others. Like the previous story, this also has a "pull the string" structure - as Wallander begins to investigate the victim's life he begins to discover unusual things which lead to an eventual solution.
The title piece is the most complicated and interesting. An unmarked, unreported small plane crashes in the Swedish countryside. Shortly afterwards, a couple of spinster sisters are found murdered in their sewing shop. While Wallander begins looking into these two seemingly unrelated cases, he must struggle with his increasingly erratic and impulsive artist father. The old man spontaneously goes to visit Egypt and ends up in custody there after trying to climb up one of the pyramids.
Mankell appears to be very popular. I would not call myself a fan, but I do enjoy his stories and respect his work. The writing can be plodding at times, and it is hard to get a good grip on Kurt Wallander's character (which is often the case with fictional detectives). He is practical, undemonstrative, persistent, low key, and relies on his gut feelings. In his personal life he usually seems to be reacting to someone with more emotions and more personality than he has (i.e. his father, his wife, his daughter). This was a good collection of tales, and I am sure his many fans will like it. I listened to an audio version of the book, which was read by an actor who indulged in some odd voice modulations, thus making things stranger than another presenter would have made them, and who sounded a bit like Willem Dafoe.