Faceless Killers

by Henning Mankell

A brutal attack on a farmer and his wife in early January 1990, calls Detective Kurt Wallander from his bed with too little sleep.

The viciously beaten farmer is dead, but his wife lingers in a coma. Before she dies, she whispers to the policeman on duty, “Foreigners. Foreigners.”

Just 20 kilometers from the farm is a large refugee camp that had already been the object of attacks from Swedes frustrated by the lack of a national policy and control of the growing numbers of asylum seekers penetrating Sweden’s borders.

The violence of the crime — almost unheard of in Sweden — is to Wallander one more sign that life is changing. And not for the better.  His wife left him three months earlier, and sent him divorce papers three days before Christmas. He can’t sleep. His daughter, who survived a suicide attempt, is estranged from him. His father, who has spent a lifetime painting and selling virtually the same landscape, is drifting into senility.

The deaths of Johannes and Maria Lövgren seem unsolvable. Then, Maria Lövgren’s brother, Lars Herdin, walks into the police station with a tale about vast sums of money that Johannes and his father earned during World War II helping the Nazis; a secret mistress and son; and regular withdrawals of large sums of money for her and the child.

This is a bleak police procedural. Life, family, the media, community politics and inter-agency conflicts intrude at every step. Despite its age (the book was published in 1991), the issues that run through this book — bad immigration policies, the influx of refugees, rising levels of violence — are as fresh as this morning’s headlines. While the story is a good stage for highlighting social problems, author Henning Mankell turns preachy at the expense of his story at times.

Other books in the series include THE PYRAMID, published in 2008, which is a prequel to the series, and the sequels to FACELESS KILLERS, listed in story order below.  (The dates given are for the English translations.)
  • THE DOGS OF RIGA (2001)
  • SIDETRACKED (1991), which won a Gold Dagger Award from the Crime Writers’ Association in 2001.
  • THE FIFTH WOMAN (2000)
  • ONE STEP BEHIND (2002)
  • FIREWALL (2002)
  • AN EVENT IN AUTUMN (2014), a novella.
  • THE TROUBLED MAN (2011).
Mankell started a series featuring Wallander’s daughter Linda, who becomes a police officer.  But when actress Johanna Sällström, who was playing Linda in the Swedish TV series, committed suicide, Mankell abandoned the intended series after the first book, Before the Frost (2005).

FACELESS KILLERS won the Glass Key Award for best Nordic Crime Novel in 1992.

This novel has many admirable qualities, but it really puts the black in noir. You may be ready to slit your wrists before you get to the end of the story.

About the Author: Henning Mankell (1948 – 2015)

Although the Inspector Kurt Wallander mystery books made author Henning Mankell internationally famous, he also wrote children’s books, plays and television screenplays.
In his work, Mankell highlighted social inequality and injustice in his native Sweden and abroad. In the Wallander series, first published in Sweden in 1991, an underlying question is what is wrong with Swedish society.
Mankell’s parents divorced when he was one-year old.  He and an older sister spent most of their childhoods with their father, a lawyer and later district judge in northern Sweden and then on the west coast of Sweden near Gothenburg.
At 16, he dropped out of school and went to Paris. He later joined the merchant marine and worked on a cargo ship. In 1966, he returned to Paris to become a writer.
In 1973, he published THE STONE BLASTER, about the Swedish labor movement. He used the proceeds from the book to go to Guinea-Bissau. Africa would eventually become a second home. In 1986, he was invited to become the artistic director of Teatro Avenida in Maputo, Mozambique, and later started a theater in Mozambique. He built a publishing house to support talented young writers from Africa and Sweden.
He was married four times and had four sons.  In 1998, he married Eva Bergman, the daughter of film director Ingmar Bergman.


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