In the past few weeks UK TV viewers have been treated to a BBC adaptation of 3 Henning Mankell novels with Kenneth Branagh taking on the role of Wallander. Interestingly the series was limited to only 3 novels: the CWA gold-dagger winning Sidetracked, One Step Behind and Firewall. More interestingly the episodes were broadcast out of sequence. Even more interestingly they didn’t adapt the best in the series – IMO The Fifth Woman.
For the first two episodes, the Beeb and Branagh did a fine job. Branagh’s Wallander was world-weary, worn out by his job, despair at the state of society, despair at the state of his private life. The plots remained true to the novels (or as true as I remember the novels – I read both Sidetracked and Firewall a few years ago) , although the violence and shocking nature of the crimes portrayed within were downplayed (and this might be the reason why The Fifth Woman was skipped over, because the crimes therein are particularly gruesome).
I’ve been reading the Wallander novels slowly but surely for a number of years and I hadn’t read One Step Behind before the TV series began. So last week saw a frantic reading of this. Frantic actually matched the pace of the novel. Wallander always one step behind the serial killer who claimed the life of one of his colleagues. Not his only problem, because if there’s one detective who’s human, middle-aged, exhausted and paying the price for his unhealthy lifestyle it’s Wallander. All of which is perhaps laid on with a trowel in this novel. Still it serves as an additional layer and a differentiator in what would otherwise be a traditional detective novel.
As for the TV episode – well, I was not happy. I understand that there must be edits for a novel to be crammed into a 90-minute televised drama – but unwarranted changes to the plot – in this case, the motivation of the killer – don’t sit well with me. I should have known – why else was One Step Behind aired out-of-novel-sequence?
Still as a taster into the world of Wallander the TV series is a fine introduction. However, I urge those of you intrigued by the series to progress to the books because Mankell’s novels paint richer tapestries. Many subplots have been removed to enable the episodes to fit into their alloted slots. The cuts (and the amendments) becoming sharper and deeper as the series went on. Having established the dynamic of the father-son relationship between Wallander and Wallander senior in Firewall, it feels strange not to have seen the outcome of their newly-found rapport. (You’ll have to read The Fifth Woman for that.) Completely lacking too any exploration of the familial relationships of the members of Wallander’s team. Nor for that matter has the team dynamic been examined.
I don’t think it matters whether you read the series in publication sequence. I didn’t. I started with Sidetracked (because of its CWA gold dagger winning status) and then moved onto Firewall (because of its information technology related plot). Thereafter I went back to the beginning. None of which diminished my pleasure in what has become a milestone in crime writing – the series that launched the now global phenonema of Scandanavian crime fiction.