He came into my life much after the others. I was acquainted with most of the popular English detectives fiction had created. I was familiar with the poet Dalgliesh, the politically correct Wexford and the inimitable Morse who listened to Wagner as soon as he got home after duty. Holmes and Miss Marple were like an old uncle and aunt I had visited numerous times as a child. I revisited them occasionally when nostalgia took a sudden somersault and made me reach out for an old dusty paperback lying forgotten on the bookshelf. I was not too fond of the cocky Belgian Hercule Poirot and empathised with his creator for having gotten fed up of him. But since the eccentric sleuth was always found in English company, I thought of him as British too.
Wallander was an unexpected delight. I chanced on him, a couple of years ago, after I had finished reading the millennium trilogy in one hungry week. Till such time I had delightedly devoured the adventures of the tattooed hacker Lisbeth Salander, I didn’t know there were excellent crime fiction writers in Sweden. So when I discovered half a dozen Henning Mankells placed cheek by jowl to half a dozen Peter Jacksons in a bookshop, curiosity made me pick up one of them. That was it. I was hooked.
I had a curious sense of resonance with Inspector Wallander. He could have been a friend I had known in school. He suffered from diabetes, he drank too much and ate too much of junk food. He was overweight and although he wanted to exercise and lose weight, he could never bring himself to do it. He had a troubled relationship with his father, his ex-wife, his daughter and some of his colleagues. The early promise he had displayed as a detective had never been fully realized but he didn’t seem to care much about that. Happy to involve himself fully in whatever crime he was called to investigate.
There was nothing much to like about Wallander. Most of the works featuring him showcased a middle aged man transitioning into the autumn of his life, not very graciously. He wasn’t unduly bitter about that but seemed to be surrounded by a cloud of sadness. Yet there was nothing pitiable about him. His fears of growing old and redundant could very well have been mine. Maybe bringing friends into the picture was the kind of a red herring Wallander had to deal with in every case. Maybe I was afraid of acknowledging his life could very well be mine if I don’t learn to let go. By the time, Mankell wrote the last book in the series, Wallander was pushing 60. The mystery he was asked to solve had to do with a troubled man and the grumpy detective, playing the mirror image was also troubled by his failing memory. It’s only when I came to the end of the book, did I realize that it was the last case of Wallander that I would have the privilege of reading. It made me sad.
But as luck would have it, a friend lent me ‘The Pyramid.’ This one is a collection of short stories of Wallander’s early cases, starting with the first one that helped him turn into the enigmatic detective we met in other works. From the end, I went back to the beginning.
In one of my plays, one of the characters ruminates about life. She says “We live and we die. Everything that happens in between is incidental.” I relived that moment with ‘The Pyramid.’
Thank you Henning Mankell for elevating detective fiction to literary delight!
P.S. Fox Crime is currently airing the television serial on Wallander. If you are not acquainted with him, you can start with viewing them.