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  • Faceless Killers
  • Written by Henning Mankell
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  • Faceless Killers
  • Written by Henning Mankell
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Faceless Killers

The First Kurt Wallander Mystery

Written by Henning MankellAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Henning Mankell

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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

First in the Kurt Wallander series.

It was a senselessly violent crime: on a cold night in a remote Swedish farmhouse an elderly farmer is bludgeoned to death, and his wife is left to die with a noose around her neck. And as if this didn’t present enough problems for the Ystad police Inspector Kurt Wallander, the dying woman’s last word is foreign, leaving the police the one tangible clue they have–and in the process, the match that could inflame Sweden’s already smoldering anti-immigrant sentiments.

Unlike the situation with his ex-wife, his estranged daughter, or the beautiful but married young prosecuter who has peaked his interest, in this case, Wallander finds a problem he can handle. He quickly becomes obsessed with solving the crime before the already tense situation explodes, but soon comes to realize that it will require all his reserves of energy and dedication to solve.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

Excerpt

Chapter 1

He has forgotten something, he knows that for sure when he wakes up. Something he dreamt during the night. Something he ought to remember. He tries to remember. But sleep is like a black hole. A well that reveals nothing of its contents.

At least I didn’t dream about the bulls, he thinks. Then I would have been hot and sweaty, as if I had suffered through a fever during the night. This time the bulls left me in peace.

He lies still in the darkness and listens. His wife’s breathing at his side is so faint that he can scarcely hear it. One of these mornings she’ll be lying dead beside me and I won’t even notice, he thinks. Or maybe it’ll be me. Daybreak will reveal that one of us has been left all alone. He checks the clock on the table next to the bed. The hands glow and register 4:45 a.m.

Why did I wake up? he asks himself. Usually I sleep till 5:30. I’ve done that for more than forty years. Why did I wake now? He listens to the darkness and suddenly he is wide-awake. Something is different. Something has changed. He stretches out one hand tentatively until he touches his wife’s face. With his fingertips he can feel that she’s warm. So she’s not dead. Neither of them has been left alone yet. He listens intently to the darkness.

The horse, he thinks. She’s not neighing. That’s why I woke up. Normally the mare whinnies at night. I hear it without waking up, and in my subconscious I know that I can keep on sleeping. Carefully he gets up from the creaky bed. For forty years they’ve owned it. It was the only piece of furniture they bought when they got married. It’s also the only bed they’ll ever have. He can feel his left knee aching as he crosses the wooden floor to the window.

I’m old, he thinks. Old and worn out. Every morning when I wake up I’m surprised all over again that I’m seventy years old. He looks out into the winter night. It’s January 7, 1990, and no snow has fallen in Skåne this winter. The lamp outside the kitchen door casts its glow across the yard, the bare chestnut tree, and the fields beyond. He squints towards the neighbouring farm where the Lövgrens live. The long, low, white house is dark. The stable in the corner against the farmhouse has a pale yellow lamp above its black door. That’s where the mare stands in her stall, and that’s where she whinnies uneasily at night when something disturbs her. He listens to the darkness. The bed creaks behind him.

“What are you doing?” mutters his wife.

“Go back to sleep,” he replies. “I’m just stretching my legs.”

“Is your knee hurting again?”

“No.”

“Then come back to bed. Don’t stand there freezing, you’ll catch cold.”

He hears her turn over onto her side. Once we loved each other, he thinks. But he shields himself from his own thought. That’s too noble a word. Love. It’s not for the likes of us. Someone who has been a farmer for more than forty years, who has worked every day bowed over the heavy Scanian clay, does not use the word “love” when he talks about his wife. In our lives, love has always been something totally different.

He looks at the neighbour’s house, peering, trying to penetrate the darkness of the winter night. Whinny, he thinks. Whinny in your stall so I know that everything’s all right. So I can lie down under the quilt for a little while longer. A retired, crippled farmer’s day is long and dreary enough as it is.

He realises that he’s looking at the kitchen window of the neighbour’s house. All these years he has cast an occasional glance at his neighbour’s window. Now something looks different. Or is it just the darkness that’s confusing him? He blinks and counts to twenty to rest his eyes. Then he looks at the window again, and now he’s sure that it’s open. A window that has always been closed at night is open. And the mare hasn’t whinnied at all.

The mare hasn’t whinnied because Lövgren hasn’t taken his usual nightly walk to the stable when his prostate acts up and drives him out of his warm bed.

I’m just imagining things, he says to himself. My eyes are cloudy. Everything is as it always is. After all, what could happen here? In the village of Lunnarp, just north of Kade Lake, on the way to beautiful Krageholm Lake, right in the heart of Skåne? Nothing ever happens here. Time stands still in this village where life flows along like a creek without vigour or intent. The only people who live here are a few old farmers who have sold or leased out their land to someone else. We live here and wait for the inevitable.

He looks at the kitchen window once more, and thinks that neither Maria nor Johannes Lövgren would fail to close it. With age comes a sense of dread; there are more and more locks, and -no one forgets to close a window before nightfall. To grow old is to live in fear. The dread of something menacing that you felt when you were a child returns when you get old.

I could get dressed and go out, he thinks. Hobble through the yard with the winter wind in my face, up to the fence that separates our properties. I could see close to that I’m just imagining things.

But he doesn’t move. Soon Johannes will be getting out of bed to make coffee. First he’ll turn on the light in the bathroom, then the light in the kitchen. Everything will be the way it always is.

He stands by the window and realises that he’s freezing. He thinks about Maria and Johannes. We’ve had a marriage with them too, he thinks, as neighbours and as farmers. We’ve helped each other, shared the hardships and the bad years. But we’ve shared the good times too. Together we’ve celebrated Midsummer and eaten Christmas dinner. Our children ran back and forth between the two farms as if they belonged to both. And now we’re sharing the -long--drawn--out years of old age.

Without knowing why, he opens the window, carefully so as not to wake Hanna. He holds on tight to the latch so that the gusty winter wind won’t tear it out of his hand. But the night is completely calm, and he recalls that the weather report on the radio had said nothing about a storm approaching over the Scanian plain.

The starry sky is clear, and it is very cold. He is just about to close the window again when he thinks he hears a sound. He listens and turns, with his left ear towards the open window. His good ear, not his right that was damaged by all the time he spent cooped up in stuffy, rumbling tractors.

A bird, he thinks. A night bird calling. Suddenly he is afraid. Out of nowhere fear appears and seizes him. It sounds like somebody shouting. In despair, trying to be heard. A voice that knows it has to penetrate thick stone walls to catch the attention of the neighbours.

I’m imagining things, he thinks. There’s nobody shouting. Who would it be? He shuts the window so hard that it makes a flowerpot jump, and Hanna wakes up.

“What are you doing?” she says, and he can hear that she’s annoyed.

As he replies, he feels sure. The terror is real.

“The mare isn’t whinnying,” he says, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “And the Lövgrens’ kitchen window is wide open. And someone is shouting.”

She sits up in bed.

“What did you say?”

He doesn’t want to answer, but now he’s sure that it wasn’t a bird that he heard.

“It’s Johannes or Maria,” he says. “One of them is calling for help.”

She gets out of bed and goes over to the window. Big and wide, she stands there in her white nightgown and looks out into the dark.

“The kitchen window isn’t open,” she whispers. “It’s smashed.”

He goes over to her, and now he’s so cold that he’s shaking.

“There’s someone shouting for help,” she says, and her voice quavers.

“What should we do?”

“Go over there,” she replies. “Hurry up!”

“But what if it’s dangerous?”

“Aren’t we going to help our best friends?”

He dresses quickly, takes the torch from the kitchen cupboard next to the corks and coffee cans. Outside, the clay is frozen under his feet. When he turns around he catches a glimpse of Hanna in the window. At the fence he stops. Everything is quiet. Now he can see that the kitchen window is broken. Cautiously he climbs over the low fence and approaches the white house. But no voice calls to him.

I am just imagining things, he thinks. I’m an old man who can’t figure out what’s really happening anymore. Maybe I did dream about the bulls last night. The bulls that I would dream were charging towards me when I was a boy, making me realise that someday I would die.

Then he hears the cry. It’s weak, more like a moan. It’s Maria. He goes over to the bedroom window and peeks cautiously through the gap between the curtain and the window frame.

Suddenly he knows that Johannes is dead. He shines his torch inside and blinks hard before he forces himself to look. Maria is crumpled up on the floor, tied to a chair. Her face is bloody and her false teeth lie broken on her spattered nightgown. All he can see of Johannes is a foot. The rest of his body is hidden by the curtain.

He limps back and climbs over the fence again. His knee aches as he stumbles desperately across the frozen clay. First he calls the police. Then he takes his crowbar from a closet that smells of mothballs.

“Wait here,” he tells Hanna. “You don’t need to see this.”

“What happened?” she asks with tears of fright in her eyes.

“I don’t know,” he says. “But I woke up because the mare wasn’t neighing in the night. I know that for sure.”

It is January 7, 1990. Not yet dawn.
Henning Mankell|Author Desktop

About Henning Mankell

Henning Mankell - Faceless Killers

Photo © Michael Lionstar

Internationally acclaimed author Henning Mankell has written eleven Kurt Wallander mysteries. The books have been published in forty countries and consistently top the bestseller lists in Europe, receiving major literary prizes (including the UK's Golden Dagger for Sidetracked) and generating numerous international film and television adaptations. He has also published many other novels for children, teens, and adults. In addition, he is one of Sweden's most popular dramatists.

Born in 1948, Mankell grew up in the Swedish village Sveg. He now divides his time between Sweden and Maputo, Mozambique, where he works as a director at Teatro Avenida. He has spent many years in Africa, where a number of his novels are set.

Author Q&A

Give the Man a Break: KURT WALLANDER

The average American hard-boiled detective is as well known for busting wise-guys as he is for muttering wise-cracks, but Europe’s most recent hard-boiled incarnations are not so full of bravado. Rather, they seem to echo the sense of overwhelming chaos that has come with the quickening modernization of our world.

Kurt Wallander, Henning Mankell’s Swedish police commissioner from the small town of Ystad, is a perfect example. The over-tired policeman’s health is less than perfect given his preference for fast food, coffee, alcohol, and little sleep. Middle-aged and divorced from his wife Mona (which he still regrets), Wallander lives the familiar life of a solitary detective. Yet he is shy and longs for a woman who will understand him. He is the sort of man who asks each morning whether life has a purpose—not his life, but life in general.

Still more typical of modern life is Wallander’s strained relationship with his aging father, who lives on a farm near Ystad, where he paints Swedish landscapes, alternately with or without a wood grouse. His failed attempts to reconcile himself with his stern father’s disapproval of his career as a policeman remains a constant source of consternation for Wallander. Each time he fails to visit his father because of his job, readers cannot help but feel sympathy for this awkwardly helpless guardian of the law.

We can see less clearly into Wallander’s inner thoughts than we can the details surrounding him. It is common for Wallander’s interior dialogue to be disrupted by the cruelty of the gruesome murders he must investigate, as if he never has time to find himself. The society that Wallander must occupy is one that has fractured under cultural shifts in race, equality, and morality, and ceaselessly draws Wallander and his associates back into the savage brutality it reaps. Henning Mankell explains the force behind Wallander’s drive:

“I wanted to write about how difficult it is to be a good police officer. Police officers often tell me they know things are changing quicker than they can deal with, that society’s outracing them. But Wallander’s never cynical. He never says, “I don’t care about that.” Naturally that damages him, but he takes responsibility, and that’s what I love. He feels tired because the work is too much. But if he didn’t do the work, he’d feel worse, he would leave a big black hole in himself . . . I think a lot of people are struggling to manage now—feeling they are running for a bus they’ll never catch. In that sense, he’s a very common man. In Sweden, people write to him as if he’s alive, and can help them.”
(The Guardian, January 12, 2002)

So Kurt Wallander approaches each new case more skeptically, with increasing determination and ingenious intuition, which is to say, not so different from the likes of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. In the end, the case is always put to rest, but Kurt Wallander is simply very tired.

Praise

Praise

“An exquisite novel of mesmerizing depth and suspense.” —Los Angeles Times

“An especially satisfying crime novel, like those of such past masters as Georges Simenon, Nicholas Freeling, and Sweden's own Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Intelligent, moving and topical, this is a thriller of the very best kind.” —The Times (London)

“A well-crafted police procedural, the story moves along at a brisk pace and comes to an exciting climax.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch



From the Trade Paperback edition.
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

“An exquisite novel of mesmerizing depth and suspense.” —Los Angeles Times

The introduction, discussion questions, author biography, and suggested reading list that follow are designed to enhance your group’s reading of Swedish novelist Henning Mankell’s brilliant mystery, Faceless Killers.

About the Guide

When Kurt Wallander is suddenly wakened from an erotic dream at 5:13 a.m. and summoned to the scene of a crime outside the village of Lunnarp, he thinks the whole thing might be little more than a senile farmer’s overactive imagination. But when he finds an elderly couple brutally tortured, the husband dead and the wife barely clinging to life, and no apparent motive for the murder, he knows he has the case of his life. And the timing couldn’t be worse. His wife has left him, his daughter won’t speak to him, and his father is drifting into a resentful, disoriented old age. Wallander is eating badly and hardly sleeping, putting on weight and suffering from his own anxieties about aging. “You flabby piece of shit,” he says to himself. “Do you really want to look like a pitiful old man?” [p. 27] The investigation itself is quickly stalled, and just when it seems things can’t get worse, racial tension flares as a refugee camp is set on fire, and, just days later, a Somali refugee is murdered. Now, with the press breathing down his neck and the Swedish government applying pressure to protect the refugees from an increasingly hostile public, Wallander has two crimes to solve. One theory and one suspect after another turn out to be dead ends, but Wallander is tenacious. Digging for facts and following his hunches, he brings himself not only closer to solutions but also closer to danger.

With a keen eye for the nitty-gritty of real police work, a sure sense of the psychological dimensions of his characters, and a clear grasp of the political and racial turmoil in contemporary Sweden, Henning Mankell delivers a tour de force in Faceless Killers.

About the Author

Internationally acclaimed author Henning Mankell has written eight novels and a collection of short stories featuring Kurt Wallander. The books have been published in thirty-three countries and consistently top the bestseller lists in Europe, receiving major literary prizes (including Great Britain’s Gold Dagger in 2000) and generating numerous international film and television adaptations. He has also published many other novels for children, young people, and adults, and is one of Sweden’s most frequently performed dramatists. He has spent many years in Africa, where a number of his novels are set. Born in 1948, Mankell grew up in the Swedish village of Sveg. He now divides his time between Sweden and Maputo, Mozambique, where he works as a director at Teatro Avenida.

Discussion Guides

1. In what ways is Faceless Killers surprising? What is unusual about its crimes and the manner in which they are solved? Why would Henning Mankell choose to make the novel about two apparently disconnected crimes, one motivated by greed and another by racial hatred? How do you think the refugees are portrayed? And why?

2. Rydberg describes the crime scene as being so grisly it was “like an American movie” [p. 21]. What does this comment suggest about the relationship between representations of violence for purposes of entertainment and real violence? What does it suggest about the differences between Sweden and America?

3. In what ways do the setting, an isolated area of rural Sweden, and the story’s first victims, an elderly couple, make the murders seem especially horrifying?

4. Before a press conference, Wallander has an attack of self-doubt. “I’m searching for the slayers of the dead,” he says, “and can’t even pay attention to the living” [p. 97]. What aspects of his life is he neglecting? Why does Henning Mankell devote so much of the novel to Wallander’s personal life: his strained relationships with his father, his daughter, and his soon to be ex-wife? What does this personal dimension add to the novel?

5. Wallander wonders why “almost every policeman was divorced. Why their wives left them. Sometimes, when he read a crime novel, he discovered with a sigh things were just as bad in fiction. Policemen were divorced. That’s all there was to it” [p. 27]. What is it about being a cop that would make marriage unsustainable? How does Wallander feel about his estranged wife? What do their interactions reveal about why the marriage failed?

6. Within moments of meeting Ellen Magnusson, Wallander suddenly realizes that she is “the mystery woman with whom Johannes Lövgren had had a child. Wallander knew it without knowing how he knew” [p. 248]. To what extent is this kind of intuition responsible for solving crimes in Faceless Killers? Where else does a hunch or sudden insight play a role in leading the detectives in the right direction? How does it help him solve the murder of the Somali refugee?

7. Confronted by a case he cannot solve, Wallander is plunged into an existential crisis: “Somewhere in the dark a vast meaninglessness was beckoning. A sneering face that laughed scornfully at every attempt he made to manage his life” [p. 80]. In what way is Faceless Killers, and perhaps every mystery novel, about the need to assign meaning to a world that can appear random, chaotic, and meaningless? How does solving a crime restore, if only briefly, order to the world?

8. Much of Faceless Killers is concerned with the controversies surrounding refugees, asylum-seekers, and open borders in Sweden. What is Wallander’s attitude toward these issues? What does the novel, as a whole, seem to suggest about the tensions between Sweden’s liberal immigration policies and its growing racial tensions? How do Wallander’s erotic dreams about a black woman, and his daughter’s relationship with a black man, fit into this context?

9. What specifics does the novel reveal about how police investigations are conducted? About the strained relations between the police, the press, and the government? About the connection between sudden insight and the dogged search for clues?

10. How important is Wallander’s relationship with Rydberg? What does Rydberg add both to the investigation and to the novel?

11. Wallander finds himself frequently knocked to the ground during the course of his investigations, nearly loses his job, gets slapped in the face, and refers to himself as both a “dubious cop” and a “pathetic cop.” When a fellow officer calls him “the hero of the day,” Wallander replies: “Piss off” [p. 107]. Is Wallander a hero? If so, how do his flaws and foibles fit into his heroism?

12. Looking back over the investigation with Rydberg, Wallander says, “I made a lot of mistakes,” to which his partner replies, “You’re a good policeman. . . . You never gave up. You wanted to catch whoever committed those murders in Lunnarp. That’s the important thing” [p. 279]. What were Wallander’s mistakes? Why did he make them? Is Rydberg right in suggesting that perseverance and will are more important than perfect police work?

13. At the very end of Faceless Killers, as Kurt Wallander reflects on the “senseless violence” he has seen, he thinks about “the new era, which demanded a different kind of policeman. We’re living in the age of the noose. . . . Fear will be on the rise” [p. 280]. What does Wallander mean by “the age of the noose”? What changes and new fears does he envision? Have these fears been validated by the events of the decade since the book was first published?

14. Most Americans have a rather idyllic view of life in Sweden. In what ways does Faceless Killers contradict that view? Is it disconcerting to learn that Sweden suffers many of the same problems—drugs, crime, racism—that beset the United States?

Suggested Readings

Michael Dibdin, Blood Rain, Dead Lagoon; Kerstin Ekman, Blackwater, Witches’ Rings; Peter Høeg, Borderliners, Smilla’s Sense of Snow; Donna Leon, Death at La Fenice; Henning Mankell, Faceless Killers; Walter Mosley, Fearless Jones; Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, The Man Who Went Up in Smoke, The Laughing Policeman; Janwillem Van De Wetering, The Perfidious Parrot, The Corpse on the Dike.

  • Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell
  • January 25, 2011
  • Fiction - Mystery & Detective
  • Vintage
  • $7.99
  • 9780307742858

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