In the week which contained the announcement of the 2008 CWA Dagger shortlists, with its inclusion of prerequisite Scandanavian title , Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it seems fitting that I’m writing up my thoughts on my latest Henning Mankell read.  Mankell, the first Scandanavian to win the Gold Dagger in 2001 with Sidetracked, and possibly the source of the appetite for  Scandanavian crime.

I have been working my way through his Inspector Wallander series, slowly but not always chronologically.  I have now completed the first 6:  Faceless Killers, The Dogs of Riga, The White Lioness, The Man Who Smiled, Sidetracked and now The Fifth Woman.  I have enjoyed them all – though numbers 3 and 4 not quite so much as the others.  I must say though that the opening chapter of The Man Who Smiled is one of the spookiest and most suspenseful pieces I have encountered.  Never (and I’m including Bleak House in this comparison) has fog been used to better effect.

It has been said that the great novels in the Wallander series start with The Man Who Smiled.  Move that one novel further on and I’m in complete agreement.  Sidetracked, the Gold Dagger Winner, is astounding.  It must be four years since I read it.  I still remember whodunnit and, more vividly, howdunnit and it’s not for the fainthearted.  Neither it must be said are the crimes within the 583 pages of The Fifth Woman

The murder of 4 nuns and a visiting Swedish tourist in South Africa unleash a series of highly inventive but particularly brutal killings in Sweden.  The killer has ice running through the veins. Mankell paces the revelations about the diverse modus operandi in such a way that the reader’s blood freezes over also.  There are seemingly no connections between the victims.  It is the nature of the case that a number of deaths must occur before a theory turns into a trail and Wallander and his team are on the way to cracking the case.   That is the particular strength of this novel.  The whodunnit, howdunnit, whydunnit elements are all incorporated but the emphasis is firmly on the how solved it.  Without the long hours, false trails, sacrifice, exhaustion and stubborn dedication of the team, the killer could not be found.

The motivations of the killer and the choice of victims add additional complexity.  Because these victims are not entirely innocent either; the skeltons in their cupboards as fascinating as the case that Wallander is asked to solve.  583 pages fairly zipped along, The Fifth Woman  firmly establishing itself as one of the great novels in the series.