Modern Lit: The Fifth Woman, by Henning Mankell

The Fifth Woman (Wallander, #6)Retribution

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Chief Inspector Kurt Wallender is moody by nature, but as The Fifth Woman opens, he’s feeling pretty positive. Kurt’s elderly father has always wanted to see Rome, and Kurt agreed to accompany him. Father and son enjoyed the vacation, as well as each other’s company, and Kurt comes home ready to return to work. Sadly, another serial killer case will soon rear its ugly head, destroying Kurt’s newfound peace of mind. When his dad suddenly dies, Kurt’s chronic depression returns with a vengeance. He throws himself into the new case, but clues and leads are hard to come by.

The Fifth Woman is perhaps Mankell’s best written work to date, and that’s saying something. This is an engrossing case, especially because it soon becomes apparent that, uncharacteristically, a woman is involved in the horrific murders, each of which is unique in style. Picture a pit with stakes in it, and a large oven, and you get the idea. Wallender and his team work painstakingly, day and night, to “decode the language”, to decipher the motive behind the staging of each death. The investigative process is thoroughly described, and seemingly unrelated details begin to merge, ever so slowly, into a coherent picture. Along the way, readers catch glimpses of Swedish life, which, to the chagrin of its citizens, has become increasingly violent. Among the complications facing the police is the rise of civilian vigilante groups, whose actions simply blur that picture.  Wallender seriously ponders  the question of  how much longer he can endure the nature of his work.

This is a police procedural, but, IMO, it’s too literary, too fluent and deep, to be forced into a genre. Credit is due to Mankell, for sure, for his creation,  but also to Steven Murray, for his masterful, seamless translation.

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