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ONE STEP BEHIND – “When a book is better than TV.”

August 10, 2011

One Step Behind—A Kurt Wallander Mystery

by Henning Mankell

Vintage Crime / Black Lizard

440114 pages, 2011, $13.95

Reading this book I am reminded of a poem by Richard Brautigan about Sidney Greenstreet (of the Maltese Falcon).

The Sidney Greenstreet Blues 
I think something beautiful
and amusing is gained
by remembering Sidney Greenstreet,
but it is a fragile thing.
The hand picks up a glass.
The eye looks at the glass
and then the hand, glass and eye
  fall away.

Enjoying these Kurt Wallander books as opposed watching the excellent PBS series with Kenneth Branagh is worth stopping a minute and thinking about. The novel has the excellent plot points that television capitalizes on. But it’s the breathing spaces between them and some glimpses of subtext that allows the reader to add his own experiences—Kurt standing in his father’s house for the last time (up for sale two year after his dad’s death) and realizing he’ll never be there again, his coming down with a medical condition (diabetes) he doesn’t want to tell his fellow workers about, having questions about a colleague’s hidden sexual orientation and consequently the man’s trustworthiness.

And slowly, through our participation, we become the protagonist, not an observer of a character on the TV screen.

Once he put the phone down again he felt somewhat at a loss. Where should he go from here? He felt a growing impatience, but knew he had to wait… 

We understand this too, and plod along with Wallander, and sit in his endless staff meetings of “what do we know, how should we proceed?”

Wallander has to change his eating and exercise habit, but can’t seem to come to terms with this (who of us has?) and yet he’s up against a mass murder of young people who prides himself on action, and acting quickly.

It is this unnamed villain who narrates part of the book that I have trouble with. It seems a clumsy mechanism to build drama by giving us a glimpse of the story’s underpinnings that the inspector doesn’t have. It also proves is a way of purposely withholding information to build suspense. While intensifying tension it tends to undermine the story’s genuineness. You don’t identify with the killer, yet are asked to see things through his eyes. That part doesn’t work for me, but Wallander’s time of life, the setting, a very satisfying ending (his father is still dead but a substitute comes to the rescue).  This is not an episode of CSI. It is the reason we read books.

Buy this directly from amazon for only $9. Click on the title: One Step Behind: A Kurt Wallander Mystery

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One comment

  1. […] Rosebud Book Reviews – “has the excellent plot points that television capitalizes on” […]



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