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.