Wallander left the station and drove out of town towards Tomelilla and Smedstorp. The drive gave him time to think about the murders. The summer landscape seemed a surreal backdrop to his thoughts. Two men are axed to death and scalped, he thought. A young girl walks into a rape field and sets herself on fire. And all around me it’s summertime. Skåne couldn’t be more beautiful than this. There’s a paradise hidden in every corner of this countryside. To find it, all you have to do is keep your eyes open. But you might also glimpse hearses on the roads.
Look at that last line. Henning Mankell is the simplest crime writer on the planet. A lot of the time, the prose looks basic. Machinic, even. And then, bang. A reminder that you are in the space of a very clever writer who holds the punch for when you’re least expecting it.
(Rape, for those unaware, is a yellow flower crop harvested for vegetable oil.)
Some of you may have seen the BBC adaptation of this starring Ken Branagh. They used it as the first episode. It’s actually halfway through the Wallander novel sequence. I see why they used it — even though it’s a middle book, it serves as an excellent introduction to the character and to Mankell’s style. It’s more complex than the tv adaptation, and also, somehow, less miserable.
The style, though. It’s like Mankell is setting the type himself, by hand, with hammer and hot metal. Hemingway without the showiness. It’s just… there. Like Mankell is saying, this is just how it is. Fascinating.