Top critical review
I had to read it
31 May 2014
After watching the BBC series with Kenneth Branagh, I thought I'd better read the book it was based on, not least to see how the inevitable compromises between written and visual texts were accommodated.
I've got to say that I was pretty disappointed with this volume. I think because it was Henning Mankell's first outing in crime fiction, or Swedish to English doesn't scan well, but most probably because of the leaden and uninspiring translation, the book creaked and clunked, and was a chore to get through. But I did, because I loved the English language telemovie adaptation so much. Everything about it I loved, apart from maybe Sir Ken's overplaying Wallander's diffidence occasionally. The writing, the direction, the sometimes jokey Bergmanesque references, the acting, the use of the locations: all top-shelf BBC and Swedish quality. Five stars for that.
However, I gave myself one more to read, before abandoning the series as a bad job: "The Dogs of Riga" was much easier to read (tho a bit redolent of the farfetchedness of Tintin at times) and it's been an upward trajectory ever since, all the way to "The Troubled Man" (the best, although saddest of the bunch) mainly due to the employment of two different translators that have done a much better job than that of the original chosen. However, I notice with trepidation that the translator of this book is given another one to do later in the series - I can't remember which one, tho I haven't read it yet (I'm reading out of sequence).
My advice: stick with it to get the background, and then expect better, though equally dour and old-fashioned writing in the subsequent books. Maybe it's just how the Swedes, and particularly Henkell, thinks. Once you get into the groove it's somewhat soothing, tho a bit at odds with native English crime writing. Different Weltanschauung, different brain space, but still worth it.