The Man Who Smiled

May 22, 2014

It 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 Smiled last August, I already knew that this book was followed by another half dozen Wallander books (line up in sequence on my bookshelf) so my boy Kurt was safe. Set that knowledge against the experiences of readers who saw each Wallander book when it first appeared. They couldn’t have known if the end of the book would also be the end of Kurt Wallander or if he would return for another round of crime-solving.

Wallander may be “safe”, but he is far from content. Henning Mankell continues to serve up a Wallander-in-crisis persona here and this book provides the most convincing personality portrait to date. The first few pages start with the grisly murder of an old man on an isolated road and then leap to Wallander wandering the desolate beaches of Skagen. He is a full year into his self-imposed exile from the Ystad police, and we are told that he had hit bottom. Can he go in any other direction than up?

Of course not, but does “up” mean a return to the police? Wallander protests that this chapter in his life is over, but the books on my bookshelf assure me he is just being obstinate. It will take another 200 pages of murder, mystery, and mayhem before Wallander accepts that his future lies in solving crimes.

Like Wallander’s future, the evil-doers here are not much of a mystery either. The Man Who Smiled is the modern version of noblesse oblige: a Prince of Business laden with wealth and privilege, free to do good or the worst kind of evil, whatever his whim dictates. He will get caught.

The book hints at the idea that there are market forces that encourage evil, but exploring this would only complicate the plot. The whole point of the Wallander books is that there are criminals and Wallander can catch them. It wouldn’t do to find out that all of us, with our ravenous hunger for wealth and security, are partly to blame.



One Response to “The Man Who Smiled”

  1. […] enjoyed the previous book, The Man Who Smiled, mainly because its portrayal of Detective Wallander seemed more nuanced than the flatter pictures […]

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