cover image The Fifth Woman: A Kurt Wallander Mystery

The Fifth Woman: A Kurt Wallander Mystery

Henning Mankell. New Press, $24.95 (423pp) ISBN 978-1-56584-547-3

Dr. Gerald Ashenden, ""Ireland's justly famous thoracic surgeon,"" is lucky to escape with only a broken shoulder after being trampled by his gray stallion, Thor, ridden by his pregnant granddaughter, Rowena Keegan, in this nominal cozy marred by clumsy, overheated dialogue (""That murderous attack on Gerald! Oh, no, Inspector! I did nothing of the kind!""), short, choppy chapters (81 in all) and improbable detail (a ""glass-fronted"" police station). Rowena's plucky American friend, language expert Torrey Tunet, is sure Rowena didn't run down her grandfather deliberately. But when someone shoots Thor with the tip of a knitting needle, causing the horse to throw Ashenden to his death, Torrey has her work cut out to prove Rowena's innocence. In her hunt for the real murderer, Torrey discovers that the doctor had a few skeletons in the closet: a blackmailing grandson, a jilted Danish girlfriend and a plot to induce abortion through an overdose of X-rays. Will Rowena get an abortion? Who's the father? Could it be a case of incest? Such questions as these generate some tension and suspense, but Deere, author of one previous mystery (The Irish Cottage Murder), has yet to learn how to convince--at the climax, the police gather a bunch of suspects together and question them as a group. The revelation that the killer used a child's popgun to shoot Thor with the knitting needle is the final absurdity, while the reason Thor attacked his master remains a mystery. (Aug.) THE FIFTH WOMAN: A Kurt Wallander Mystery Henning Mankell. New Press, $24.95 (432p) ISBN 1-56584-547-1 ~ At the start of this Swedish version of the station-house police procedural, set in the Sk ne district in the south of Sweden, Det. Kurt Wallander, who has just returned from an idyllic vacation in Rome, joins the hunt for the missing Holger Eriksson, an elderly poet. Finding the man's corpse in a ditch, impaled on sharpened bamboo stakes, brings Wallander back abruptly to the realities of crime in modern Sweden. While Wallander and his colleagues investigate the murder, another man is found dead in the local woods, making it clear that they have a brutal serial killer on their hands. The killer plans each murder carefully to ensure that the victim suffers for several days before dying. Who could hate these innocent-seeming men so much as to want to torture them to death? The police detectives must delve deeply into the victims' lives to find out what links them together and what might have made them a deadly enemy. Mankell takes the reader slowly and meticulously through the long investigation's progress, including frequent reversals. The policemen are constantly overworked and exhausted, but they make acute deductions and chase down every lead relentlessly. Mankell is a talented writer, and the translation by Steven Murray is graceful and colloquial, but the narrative is so bleak and brooding that it certainly qualifies as the darkest of Swedish noir. (Aug.) UNDER PRESSURE Abigail Reed. Forge, $6.99 (416p) ISBN 0-812-53928-1 ~ Reed's newest is a story of sexual harassment that begins when Karyn Christophe takes a job in the fashion department of Cybelle, a glamorous retail chain. There, Karyn's early days fuel her hopes that she can rebuild her life after a disastrous marriage, but trouble arises in the form of Lou Hechter, the department head. Brash and slimy, Lou has a penchant for harassing his female employees with lewd suggestions and even lewder acts. Unbeknownst to Karyn, he has been blackmailing her new boss, Cilla Westheim, into a secret sexual liaison for years. Tangled in her own web of shame and fear, Cilla is helpless to save Karyn, even as she watches the cycle begin again; in the end, it's Karyn who blows the whistle on Lou, after a near-rape that she has been prescient enough to catch on tape. Harassment has been too well covered in both fiction and nonfiction for this plot to generate much surprise, and the fashion theme also has a dated quality reminiscent of 1980s Steel or Krantz. But underneath the trendy subject and glossy surface, the book exudes an appealing emotional warmth. The love stories--between Karyn and her new beau, Roger; and Cilla and her younger lover, Shane--are charming and well detailed. (Aug.)