The Dogs of Riga

July 8, 2012

Like Martin Beck before him, it takes Kurt Wallander just two books before he is required to travel abroad to solve a murder. Unlike Beck, who could fall back on the plausible excuse that his murder victim was a Swede, The Dogs of Riga forces Wallander to contend with foreign victims, foreign culprits, and crimes committed on foreign soil governed by foreign laws. If it weren’t for the offbeat friendship Wallander had struck up with the victim just prior to his death, and the erotic allure of the victim’s beautiful widow (who improbably and repeatedly implores Wallander to solve the crime), he would have tossed the case file over his shoulder and fled back to his whiskey bottle in Sweden without so much as a backward glance.

Leaving aside the questionable rationale for Wallander’s travels, one must also contend with a book that is really two novellas connected by a bit of string. The first “story” concerns two well-dressed corpses who appear to have “washed up” on the beach of Wallander’s little town. A brief and meticulous investigation reveals that the dead hailed from Latvia. A Latvian police officer quickly materializes to help unearth the killers only to discover that Wallander, who is tormented by the death of the last person on the planet with whom he had a meaningful relationship (namely, his colleague and mentor, Rydberg), has managed to do something unbelievably stupid with a key piece of evidence. Poor Wallander. Unprofessional, uninterested in work and life, and unfit for human companionship. Someone should buy him a dog.

The second “story” is another matter entirely. Another murder occurs and this brings Wallander to Riga, the Latvian capital of intrigue, double-dealing, and corruption. (Shades of Aurelio Zen! Except where Italian corruption has a sophisticated flair that seems to infiltrate every part of Italian society, the Latvian version is pallid and predictable.) Wallander can’t figure out why he is in Riga and neither can we. Just before the book’s final gunshots zing through the villain’s chest, he blurts out, “This is the maddest escapade I’ve ever been involved in… I’m at least as scared as you are… Unlike your husband… I spend most of my time chasing drunken burglars and escaped bulls.” In other words, aside from his ability to speak words like “escapade” at a moment of crisis, Wallander is no hero. He unravels nothing about either crime or himself, so it’s back to Sweden and the booze. I expect the next book will open with him in the drunk tank or the looney bin.

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2 Responses to “The Dogs of Riga”

  1. […] down a second story drainpipe with Bertie Wooster and opted for the murderous mayhem served up by Kurt Wallander. A quick check shows that more than a half dozen Wallander mysteries remain on my closet shelf, and […]

  2. […] recently hit me that I can never read the Wallander series (or any other series) the way it was originally meant to be read. When I opened The Man Who […]

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