cover image The Shadow Girls

The Shadow Girls

Henning Mankell. New Press, $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-59558-192-1

The darkly absurdist humor in bestselling Swedish novelist Mankell’s novel comes from an original blend of cheerful satire, metafiction, and earnest social messaging. Jesper Humlin is a poet who is moderately successful professionally and mostly hapless personally. His girlfriend, Andrea, is pressuring him to have a baby, his editor has decided (and publically announced) that Humlin’s next book will be a “crime thriller,” and his elderly mother is running a phone sex service. Cleverly, everyone Humlin encounters, including his mother, stockbroker, and a writerly frenemy, has casually decided to write a crime novel, while Humlin, after a chance encounter with Nigerian refugee “Tea-Bag,” resists his editor’s demands in favor of exposing the plight of international refugees. Humlin then teaches writing to Tea-Bag; Leyla, an Iranian immigrant with a highly protective family; and Tanya, a silent Russian pickpocket. Hearing their stories ignites Humlin’s passion to do something meaningful, but his lofty ideas don’t align with his subjects, illuminating some prescient issues of the immigrant narrative. At turns absurdly amusing and genuinely touching, Mankell’s latest novel (after The Troubled Man) will be a new twist for fans of his Kurt Wallander mysteries and an enjoyable outing for fans of more literary fare. Agent: Anneli Hoier, Leonhardt & Hoier. (Oct.)