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Review: In 'The Pyramid,' Mankell creates strange lands but familiar human frailty

The four short mystery stories and title novella in The Pyramid form a prequel to nine other books featuring Inspector Kurt Wallander, author Henning Mankell's best known, singularly captivating hero. The Pyramid stands alone fine; that it ties together later works attests to Mankell's deep investment in his all-too-human cop doing all he can to alleviate the world's pain.

Translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segerberg and Laurie Thompson, this reads easily even though the topography Mankell conjures so vividly may be unfamiliar to American readers. Like Wallander, that terrain of small towns and suburbs, not cosmopolitan Stockholm, is spare, hermetic and gray. Wallander and his mates — including hypochondriac Rydberg, dour Martinsson and Bjoerk, a stickler with whom Wallander frequently butts heads — are a community, teaming up to solve the death of an enigmatic photographer, the murder of two superficially innocuous sisters and the apparent suicide of a seaman gone to seed in crimes only a thoroughly bonded department could solve.

Disruption of the social fabric is one theme of these stories, the virtues of teamwork another, and domesticity is a third subtext. Mankell effectively explores the tension between family obligations and the stress of police work.

The Pyramid ties all this together, binding a troublesome voyage Wallander's dotty father makes to Egypt to the solution of a crime blending drug dealing, the aspirations of the owners of a sewing supply shop and Wallander's very purpose. It even harkens back to an incident in Wallander's First Case, which launches the book. "Digging down usually takes one forward," Wallander's thorny mentor Rydberg tells him.

This book, a marvel of spare, purposeful prose and artful storytelling, illuminates the character of a police inspector who never settles for the easy fix in his search for social harmony.

Carlo Wolff is a Cleveland-based freelance writer.

The Pyramid and Four Other Kurt Wallander Mysteries

By Henning Mankell

New Press, 400 pages, $26.95

Review: In 'The Pyramid,' Mankell creates strange lands but familiar human frailty 11/22/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 9:59am]
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