Monday, August 6, 2018

Swedish Detective Kurt Wallander Finds Himself One Step Behind a Clever Killer

This is another dense, intricately plotted crime novel featuring Swedish detective Kurt Wallander. Three young people, dressed in costumes and celebrating Midsummer's Eve, are brutally murdered. The killer buries the bodies and while they remain undiscovered, the victim's parents are led to believe that their children are off touring Europe. However, the mother of one of the victims refuses to believe this and insists that the police should be investigating the disappearance of the three. But the evidence, such as it is, suggests that the three are in fact alive and well, and the police do not take the mother's claims seriously.

The one official who does believe that something might be amiss, is Kurt Wallander's colleague, Svedberg. For some unknown reason, though, Svedberg does not share his suspicions with Wallander or anyone else. Rather, he takes vacation time and begins to quietly investigate the case on his own. Shortly thereafter, Svedberg dies under mysterious circumstances and almost immediately thereafter, it becomes clear that the three young people have indeed been murdered.

Kurt Wallander now faces the most baffling case of his career. He realizes that the death of Svedberg must be connected to the murders of the three young people, but how? And the deeper he digs into the mystery, the more elusive a solution appears to be.

This is not a break-neck thriller. It proceeds at a very stately pace, as a real investigation of this magnitude would. There's a great deal of soul-searching and second-guessing from practically everyone involved, Wallander most of all. The story takes place against a society that's in transition, and a lot of people are wondering if things are spinning out of control. Although the novel takes place during an unusually warm summer, the overall tone of the book could not be more dreary.

Throughout the book, Wallander suffers from what almost seems to be clinical depression. He has major health issues; he's not sleeping well; he has hardly any energy, and for all the world, you would think he was a man approaching seventy. It's almost jarring when the author reminds us on several occasions, that Wallander is not even fifty yet. He questions his own ability and we are left to wonder through much of the book whether he will be able to see this case through to a successful conclusion.

This is probably not a book that will appeal to readers looking for a bright, uplifting story to take them away from the cares and woes of their daily existence. But for those who enjoy dark, gritty, believable police procedurals, One Step Behind will be just what the doctor ordered.

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