The Dogs of Riga – Henning Mankell


I enjoyed Henning Mankell’s first Kurt Wallander novel, Faceless Killers, for its realism and gimmick-free protagonist.  So, when I was having a tough week at work that put me in the mood for some absorbing crime fiction, I happily picked up The Dogs of Riga.  Unfortunately, everything that the first book got right, its follow-up gets wrong.

Faceless Killers was a straightforward procedural in which an everyman detective conducted solid po-lice work to catch a couple of murderers.  The Dogs of Riga is, essentially, Kurt Wallander vs. a communist regime.  If that sounds like a bit of a change in scale, it doesn’t make much more sense once you read the book.

Two bodies wash up in a lifeboat near the small but conveniently crime-ridden town of Ystad.  Wallander investigates.  A Latvian police officer gets involved.  The case is closed.  The Latvian police officer returns home, and is murdered.  For some reason, Wallander is flown to the former-soviet country to assist with the investigation.  And then, somehow, he becomes the only hope of the anti-soviet Latvian resistance.  Scattered throughout the book are the explanations for how this sting of events ties together, but I think it was all too unlikely for my brain to bother absorbing.

The character of Wallander, too, almost becomes a parody of himself.  Where previously I found his lack of gimmickry refreshing, in this outing, Mankell seems intent on making his very ordinariness his gimmick.  I like that Wallander is a fat, quasi-alcoholic who’s unlucky in love.  But does he have to have a boil on his butt, too?  Does he have to get violent diarrhoea during a climactic scene?  Mankell reminds us of the detective’s fallibility so often that it begins to feel forced.

Couple these flaws with a very slow moving plot and frequent summaries of previous events, and you’ve got a very mediocre thriller.  I respect that Mankell tries to address the social issues of the day, but this was just too much of a reach.  That being said, I’ll probably give the author another go.  Mostly because my wife really likes him.

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