The Troubled Man (Kurt Wallander)
by Henning Mankell
Translated by Laurie Thompson;
Review by Cathy Green
Knopf Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780307593498
Date: 29 March 2011 List Price $26.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Henning Mankell, as Maj Sjowall and Per Wahlöö before him did with their Martin Beck novels, has ended his Wallander series with the tenth novel. In this last novel, Wallander's personal and professional lives combine in interesting ways. Wallander's daughter Linda, having successfully followed in his footsteps with a career in the police force, has finally met the man she wishes to settle down with permanently, a banker named Hans von Enke, with whom she is about to have a child. Wallander has made some life changes of his own, having finally sold his apartment in the city and bought a house in the country and a dog named Jussi.
When Wallander is invited by his daughter to her future father-in-law Håkan von Enke's seventy-fifth birthday party in Stockholm, Wallander has an interesting and private discussion with the man about several incidents during Håkan's naval career involving Russian submarines during the 1960s at the height of the Cold War when Sweden was doing its best to maintain neutrality while providing some assistance to NATO and trying not to anger the Soviets. Håkan claimed that he had been ordered not to force a suspected Russian submarine to surface, but instead to allow it to escape, and that as a result he was always suspicious that there was a Soviet spy highly placed within the military or the government. To Wallander, Håkan seemed ill at ease when making his revelation, and his suspicions are further aroused when Håkan disappears and the Swedish Security Service becomes involved in the investigation.
Wallander is a member of the police force in Ystad, not Stockholm, but the investigating officer keeps him apprised both as a professional courtesy and because Wallander is essentially a relative of the vanished man. Wallander is able to become closely involved in the case because of an unfortunate incident in which he forgot his service weapon at a restaurant, resulting in a suspension while the matter is investigated. The misplacing of the service weapon is probably due to one of the temporary memory lapses Wallander has been experiencing recently, although his doctor seems to think they are work place stress-related and not cause for alarm.
Could Håkan von Enke's disappearance be related to the Cold War and a Soviet sleeper agent in Sweden? Could it relate to the assassination of Olaf Palme? Håkan's wife Louise claims to have no idea about his disappearance, and to be genuinely grief-stricken and bewildered, but then she disappears too, and turns up dead, an apparent suicide, with microfilm of Swedish military secrets translated into Russian hidden in her bag. At this point the police think it is likely they are looking for a corpse and not a missing person.
As Wallander digs into Håkan's life, he discovers a secret child, a daughter that had been born ten years before Hans but so severely handicapped that she had been institutionalized her whole life. Hans knew nothing of his older sibling, his parents never having spoken of her, although Håkan visited her regularly. It was a very well hidden secret, Wallander having only found out from talking to two close friends of Håkan's from his naval career, a fellow Swedish naval officer and an American officer Håkan had met in Germany and kept in touch with. The tip about the daughter proves helpful, as it turns out Håkan had hidden some papers relating to the submarine incident and the possibility of a Russian spy in one of the books he would read her during his visits.
Wallander keeps a lot of the information he discovers to himself, and it is never entirely clear whether he is doing this because he does not know whom to trust or because he is simply forgetting to tell the Stockholm based police detective what he has learned. The temporary memory loss episodes start to occur with alarming frequency as the novel progresses, and Wallander's diabetes is getting worse, possibly because he is unable to remember to control his blood sugar. In his professional life, he is let off with being docked five days pay for the gun incident, and one of his colleagues with whom he is close comes to him in tears and announces he is retiring because he no longer has any faith in what he is doing. Meanwhile, Wallander's ex-wife's drinking had gotten out of control and she is forced to enter a residential treatment program. Baiba Liepa, the Latvian woman Wallander met in The Dogs Of Riga and the only woman Wallander ever loved other than his wife also makes a reappearance. Mankell is referencing and wrapping up as many of the open threads from the other books in the series as he can in 370 pages.
Wallander eventually solves the case after a dramatic confrontation with the person who he believes to be the spy, and the conclusion is somewhat unexpected, although it makes sense in the contest of all the information given over the course of the novel. And Henning Mankell gives us the conclusion to Wallander's life as well, having come to both praise and bury him in The Troubled Man. This is a satisfying, complex novel, everything fans of the series have come to expect from Henning Mankell. While fans will no doubt be disappointed that this is the end of the series, they should be very satisfied with the intricate final novel Mankell has given them.