Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Pyramid - Henning Mankell

1999 (Swedish) & 2008 (English); 392 pages.  Full Title : The Pyramid - The First Wallander Cases.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Murder-Mystery.  Rating : 6*/10.

    Readers of Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander series know the hero as a Swedish detective who's world-wise, world-weary, divorced, disillusioned, and has relationship issues with just about everyone around him.

    When Mankell penned the first book in the series, Wallander was already in his 40's.  So how did his life and psyche get this way?  The Pyramid starts to answer this, in the form of 5 stories featuring Wallander solving cases in his 20's and 30's.

What's To Like...
    The 5 stories are stand-alones, and they vary in length from 26 to 153 pages.  They're typical Henning Mankell murder/mysteries - there is scant evidence to begin with, and Wallander and his detective team need patience and perseverence to sort out the solid tips from the red herrings and solve the cases.

    You're treated to Mankell's customary critique of various Swedish social issues (mostly concerning immigrants and crime rates).  Indeed, the second tale is more commentary than story.

    As promised, you gain added insight into Wallander's plethora of personal issues, although none are completely explained.  For instance, we see Mona as his girlfriend, his wife, then they're separated, then they're divorced.  But we don't see the wedding, or the day Mona walks out the door.

Kewlest New Word...
Rusk : a sweet or plain bread baked, sliced, and baked again until it is dry and crisp.

    "I really have only one question," Hemberg began.  "What do you think it is?"
    "You're of course wondering what I'm doing here."
    "I would probably put it more forcefully," Hemberg said.  "How the hell did you end up here?"
    "It's a long story," Wallander said.
    ""Make it short," Hemberg replied.  "But leave nothing out."  (pg. 65)

    "Have we ever had anything like this?"
    Rydberg considered this.  "Not that I can remember.  There was a lunatic who planted an axe in a waiter's head about twenty years ago.  The motive was an unpaid debt of thirty kronor.  But I can't think of anything else."
    Walander lingered at the table.
    "Execution-style," he said.  "Not particularly Swedish."
    "And what is Swedish, exactly?" Rydberg asked.  (pg. 281)

"Police work often consists of doing what one knows from the start to be meaningless.  But ... (n)o stone can be left unturned."  (pg. 361)
    If you like to delve into the inner workings of a main character's mind, you'll enjoy The Pyramid.  But personally, I read murder-mysteries first and foremost for the storyline; the rest is peripheral.  And in this regard The Pyramid comes up just a bit short.  The endings especially seem to fall flat.

   For example (and this is not a spoiler), the first story hums along quite nicely : Kurt Wallander figures out the crime, and closes in on the perp.  So far, so good.  But he gets stabbed, loses consciousness, and when he comes to in the hospital, the exciting climax is already done and related to him anecdotally.  Major ho-hum.

    It almost seems as if Henning Mankell is tired of Kurt Wallander.  This is the ninth KW book he wrote, and he planned it to be the last.  He wants to answer some outstanding questions about his star detective, and he does it while unfolding some interesting mysteries.  But once he's revealed the tidbits about Wallander and vented a bit about something wrong in Sweden, he doesn't seem to want to give the mysteries the time-consuming attention needed to fully develop them and bring them to a satisfying conclusion.

    The Pyramid is still a decent read; just not up to the high standard of the earlier, full-length Wallander novels.  6 Stars.

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