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before the frost
23 june 2011
Near the beginning of Henning Mankell's Before the Frost, Linda Wallander expresses doubts about a house that her father Kurt wants to buy. "This is not a place where my father could find peace . . . Here he'll be at the mercy of his inner demons" (17). Which begs two questions: (a) where would Kurt Wallander not be at the mercy of his inner demons, and (b) who would want to read a novel where he wasn't?
Henning Mankell's novels often posit a normalcy that they've never lived up to in previous series entries. Late in Before the Frost, a young single mother is drugged and kidnapped. Somebody asks, "Do things like that really happen in a town like Ystad?" (323) Hello! Things extremely worse than that have been happening on a pagely basis for seven or eight novels. But with each new Wallander novel, people revert back to assuming that Ystad will be a sleepy little provincial city, instead of its usual hotbed of serial killing.
The serial killers in Before the Frost are bent on a campaign of apocalyptic cult destruction born in the Kool-Aid kitchens of Jonesboro and set to culminate in simultaneous church conflagrations in early September, 2001. If it's Kurt Wallander's Sweden, hideous violence can't be far beneath the veneer.
More interesting than this lurid but a little OTT main plot is the oblique light that the novel casts on Kurt Wallander himself. None of it is told from Kurt's point of view; most is told from his daughter Linda's. (Some, as usual in the Wallander series, is told from the POV of the killers.) Linda, a police cadet just about to don the uniform, watches her father investigate his usual dark and desperate mysteries. Inevitably, she launches herself much deeper into the investigation than she should, with the instincts of a 21st-century Scandinavian Nancy Drew. She's more like her father than she dares to admit.
I read Before the Frost so that I could catch up and read The Troubled Man, just translated into English and published in the U.S. Although Before the Frost is called a "Linda Wallander Mystery" in the English subtitle, it's not really the start of an independent series for Linda (and The Troubled Man promises to be the last Wallander of all). But Before the Frost has virtues as a psychological sidelight on a great fictional creation. It's something like Ian Fleming's Spy Who Loved Me, though more of a piece with the rest of its series. And Kurt Wallander does love his daughter; he just has no clue how to show it.
Mankell, Henning. Before the Frost: A Linda Wallander Mystery. [Innan frosten, 2002.] Translated by Ebba Segerberg. New York: New Press, 2005.