Review: Henning Mankell – An Event in Autumn

An Event in AutumnFans of Henning Mankell’s Wallander books will know that the series has come to an end. Wallander, for reasons that were narrated in The Troubled Man, will investigate no more cases. However, it appears we have one last story. According to the book’s afterword, An Event in Autumn was originally written for a Dutch publisher to give away to purchasers of their crime novels. It’s not really a novella, more a longish short story but it is, nevertheless, very nice to revisit Wallander’s world.

The now ageing Wallander has always dreamt of owning a house in the countryside around Ystad. His colleague, Martinsson, tells him about a dilapidated house that he has inherited and which Wallander might want to visit with a view to purchasing. However, while inspecting the garden, Wallander discovers a skeletal hand and the police dig soon reveals the presence of two bodies. All the evidence suggests that the victims have been in the ground for a long time, so Wallander is forced to go back decades in time to discover the origins of the tragedy.

While reading An Event in AutumnI couldn’t help thinking that it would have made an excellent full length novel. The story reminded me a little of Colin Dexter’s Morse book, The Wench is Dead It was not only the historic aspect to the narrative but also the part played by Wallander. He’s always been a character who is fails to take his own health seriously. But in this short tale, there’s a foreshadowing of the trouble that comes in the final book.

There’s a decent plot and it’s a shame it wasn’t given the opportunity to open out in Mankell’s trademark way. There could have been plenty of twists and turns before we reached the final conclusion but the length of the story didn’t allow this. Nevertheless, it was enjoyable both for the glimpses into fifties Swedish attitudes and also for the descriptions of the wonderful Scanian countryside that we got when Wallander visited his father in earlier books.

Wallander fans will have already read the story, I’m sure. There’s an interesting essay at the back of the book by Mankell which confirms that this is it. There are no more Wallander tales and we really have reached the end.

Thanks to Harvill Secker for my review copy. The translation was by Laurie Thompson.

Review: Fredrik T Olsson – Chain of Events

Chain-of-EventsI’m a fan of crime novels set amongst cataclysmic events. Of course, as crime readers, we are used to the opposite. From the country house murder in golden age crime fiction to the cold climate of Scandinavian thrillers, it is the thought of evil that runs against the natural order that gives us the biggest shiver. But there is something to be said in setting a crime in the middle of circumstances so monstrous that they are almost imaginable. I’ve reviewed a few of these books on this blog: Ben H Winters’ Last Policeman trilogy, Louise Welsh’s A Lovely Way to Burn and The Healer by Antti Tuomainen. Now we have a debut by Swedish writer Fredrik T Olsson that envisages a different type of scenario that threatens to wipe out the human race.

William Sandberg was a respected cryptologist but a series of family tragedies lead to a failed suicide attempt. When he disappears from his hospital room, his ex-wife Christina refuses to believe he has vanished voluntarily and sets out to discover the identity of the kidnappers. Sandberg finds himself in an ancient castle in a mountainous country and is given mysterious code to decipher. A chance meeting with someone inside the citadel reveals the true nature of the DNA sequences that William is studying and the potential implications of his failure to decode the messages.

Olsson comes from a screen writing background which is immediately apparent in his mastery of how to keep a reader hooked into the narrative. The book is, literally, a page turner and, although long, I can imagine it being possible to finish it in one sitting. There are multiple points of views which, again, I’d expect from someone with the writer’s background. These also work well, the characters are well drawn enough to be distinguishable, but sometimes depth of characterisation is sacrificed to momentum.

Although a Swedish crime novel, Chain of Events is much more located in the international thriller genre. The pandemic that threatens to wipe out civilisation needs a fair amount suspension of disbelief and yet the writer also manages to make the chase to decode the biological time bomb fun and interesting. The ending is, perhaps, a little pat but that’s the problem with dystopian narratives. Once you stare over the abyss, how can anything be the same again?

Thanks to Sphere for my review copy. The translation was by Dominic Hinde.