Set against the chaotic backdrop of eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Mankell's intense, accomplished mystery, the last in his Kurt Wallander series (Firewall, etc.), explores one man's struggle to find truth and justice in a society increasingly bereft of either. Here the provincial Swedish detective takes on a probably fruitless task: investigating the murders of two unidentified men washed up on the Swedish coast in an inflatable dinghy. The only clues: their dental work suggests they're from an Eastern Bloc country; the raft is Yugoslavian. But their deaths mushroom into an international incident that takes Wallander to Riga, Latvia, and enmeshes him in an incredibly dangerous and emotionally draining situation, battling forces far larger than the "bloodless burglaries and frauds" he typically pursues in Sweden. In Riga, Wallander must deal with widespread governmental corruption, which opens his eyes to the chilling reality of life in the totalitarian Eastern Bloc: grim, harrowing and volatile. Wallander's introspection and self-doubt make him compellingly real, and his efforts to find out what happened to those men on the life raft makes for riveting reading. There's a pervasive sense of Scandinavian gloom, in Wallander and in the novel, that might be difficult for some American readers, but this is a very worthy book—a unique combination of police procedural and spy thriller that also happens to be a devastating critique of Soviet-style Communism. (Apr. 24)
Forecast:Despite considerable success abroad (the author has won the U.K.'s Gold Dagger Award) and increased exposure here (two of his books have recently been reprinted in Vintage's Black Lizard series), Mankell still has an uphill struggle to break out of the "literary" ghetto.