Ghosts from the Past: The Fifth Woman by Henning Mankell

Anymore when someone talks about Scandinavian noir or Swedish mysteries, Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy almost always figures prominently in the discussion. It was an excellent series of thrillers worthy of conversation. That said, my own love of the sub-genre began years before in the form of Kurt Wallander, an aging, borderline alcoholic Swedish police detective.

My introduction came one warm Memorial Day weekend when I settled in to read Henning Mankell’s Faceless Killers, the first in the Wallander series. Mankell’s stark descriptions of Swedish winters chilled me to the bone, while his insightful writing kept me reading. Since then, I like to intersperse a Wallander, or any of Mankell’s standalone thrillers, with new authors and other favorites.

The Fifth Woman begins with the murder of four nuns and a visiting tourist. Mankell sets it aside and turns his attention on a gruesome murder in southern Sweden. A retired used car dealer has been found impaled on a stake in his own yard.

Wallander, fresh off a vacation in Rome with his father, is called in. The scene rips him from his relaxed state of mind back to harsh reality and forces him to recall another horrible crime months before. Just like the previous case, Wallander senses this will be the first victim for the killer with more to follow. He jumps right into the twisted investigation, ignoring issues in his own personal life.

Told primarily with an eye to police procedure, Mankell does offer the reader glimpses into the killers actions and thoughts. It is a chilling juxtaposition to the dogged, exhausted detectives investigating, eventually, both the crimes.

Mankell also does not shy away from including commentary about Swedish culture in his books. The Fifth Woman most definitely takes aim at misogyny and abusive of women. His observations are not preachy, but used to further the plot. While the topic can almost be overdone on American TV, when he wrote this book in 1996 Mankell most certainly was casting light on the issue. It is still relevant today.

Anyone who enjoys contemporary mysteries and/or thrillers is sure to like Mankell’s well written Wallender series. Enough backstory is provided book to book you can really jump in anywhere.

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2 responses to “Ghosts from the Past: The Fifth Woman by Henning Mankell

  1. Wallander is such a great character. Have you seen Kenneth Branagh play him? I haven’t but heard he’s wonderful in the part. I actually picked up Mankell’s newest novel at BEA – it’s not a mystery, so I’m curious to see what it’s like.

  2. Was the Mankell ARC his forthcoming novel for The Free Press? (I’m pretty sure that was the pub) I grabbed it too!

    I have not seen the Kenneth Branagh Wallander- I somehow missed the Masterpiece Mystery showcases. I am seriously thinking about buying them.
    Branagh seems a little too good looking and put together. That said, I know similar arguments were made when John Hannah was originally cast in the Rebus mysteries. Still, I think he captured the essence of the character and portrayed him well. I’ll give any BBC production based on a series I like a fair shot.
    There are two Scandinavian productions I have seen stills from and they look a lot like I pictured Wallander. Doubt I will ever find those.

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