Henning Mankell, 1948-2015

Some extremely sad news today. Swedish crime author Henning Mankell has died at the age of 67. 


Mankell is of course best known for his ‘Kurt Wallander’ police procedural series, set in the small town of Ystad in southern Sweden. Aside from its high quality and the wonderfully complex characterisation of Inspector Wallander, the series is marked by its social conscience, a deep empathy for others, and an outward-looking view, which connected Ystad with Europe and the rest of the world, most notably Africa, a continent Mankell loved and where he spent a great deal of time. The series was and remains ground-breaking, tackling subjects such as xenophobia, violence, terrorism, the globalisation of crime and the historical legacies of the twentieth century. It is rightly viewed as one of the great series in international crime fiction – elegantly bridging Sjowall and Wahloo’s 1970s ‘Beck’ series and more recent Nordic Noir such as Indridason’s ‘Reykjavik’ novels.


There are ten Wallander novels. Here they are with their original date of publication and their atmospheric opening lines.

Faceless Killers (1990). ‘He has forgotten something, he knows that for sure when he wakes up. Something he dreamt during the night. Something he ought to remember.’

The Dogs of Riga (1992). ‘It started snowing shortly after 10am. The man in the wheel-house of the fishing boat cursed. He’d heard the forecast, but hoped they might make the Swedish coast before the storm hit.’

The White Lioness (1993). ‘Louise Akerblom, an estate agent, left the Savings Bank in Skurup shortly after 3.00 in the afternoon on Friday, April 24.’

The Man who Smiled (1994). ‘Fog. A silent, stealthy beast of prey. Even though I have lived all my life in Skane, where fog is forever closing in and shuttering out the world, I’ll never get used to it.’

Sidetracked (1995). ‘Just before dawn. Pedro Santana woke. The kerosene lamp had started to smoke. When he opened his eyes, he didn’t know where he was’.

The Fifth Woman (1996). ‘The letter arrived in Ystad on 19 August 1993. Since it had an African stamp and must be from her mother, she hadn’t opened it immediately. She wanted to have peace and quiet to read it.’

One Step Behind (1997). ‘On Wednesday, 7 August 1996, Kurt Wallander came close to being killed in a traffic accident just east of Ystad.’

Firewall (1998). ‘The wind died down towards evening, then stopped completely. He was standing on the balcony. Some days he could see a sliver of ocean between the buildings across the way.’

The Pyramid (1999). ‘In the beginning, everything was just a fog. Or perhaps it was like a thick-flowing sea where all was white and silent. The landscape of death.’

The Troubled Man (2009). ‘The story begins with a sudden fit of rage. The cause of it was a report that had been submitted the previous evening, which the prime minister was now reading at his poorly lit desk.’

Huge thanks are due to the translators who brought us the Wallander novels and expertly translated the lines above: Steven T. Murray, Ebba Segerberg and Laurie Thompson.

K wallander

Further links (I will keep adding to these – if you find good ones, do leave them in the comments section below).

I’m off to liberate some Aquavit from the back of the drinks cupboard and to watch an episode of Wallander with Krister Henriksson…

31 thoughts on “Henning Mankell, 1948-2015

  1. Those initial lines from each book form a perfect tribute. As I read them, they elicited all the promise of reading again, especially those I have missed or forgotten. That promise is for me the mark of incomparable writing, and a great gift. Mr. Mankell’s Wallander titles also embodied that critical intellect of the policeman who embraces the will to construct order in accord with a personal vision of the ragged world. Lonely work, even to imagine it. Comparisons to the worldview of Martin Beck are apt.

    Thanks for your message. I will follow the reference to Mr. Forshaw’s thoughts, and others.

    • Thanks, David. The idea of the first lines was to have his voice still be present, and I really like the way in which they immediately set the scene, but in very different ways. It’s made me want to re-read a few of the novels again as well.

  2. I have read all these books and seen all the shows in Swedish .Yes time to watch some reruns which I kept on sky box for a rainy day.This is that day,great writing Ruth

    Sent from my iPad


    • It must have been quite something for Mankell to see his novels realised so well for TV, with at least three major actors in the role of Wallander (including our Kenneth). Lovely that we have so many versions of the series to choose from and to enjoy.

  3. Oh. How sad. I just read a moving piece by him the other day about having been diagnosed with cancer. He was hopeful he might survive it. A great writer and a very fitting tribute.

  4. Sad news, but a lovely tribute and assessment of his stature. Perhaps credit the translators of those atmospheric first lines, too? Stephen T. Murray, Laurie Thompson, Ebba Segerberg…

  5. So sad, but with fitting tributes to a wonderful writer. As others have said, we had all hoped he would get through it. And 67 is no age these days. I’ve seen all the Krister Hendersson’s Wallander, got all the DVD’s, and read all the books plus others Henning Mankell had written too. So along with many others no doubt, I will spend time going through them all again. What is Aquavit by the way?

    • It is indeed, Kathy. 67 is far too young.

      Aquavit means ‘water of life’ and is a spirit made from grain or potatoes, sometimes flavoured with caraway seed. It’s EXTREMELY potent!

  6. What a good person Henning Mankell was, in addition to being an excellent writer. I have not read many of his books, but enjoyed The Beijing Man.
    But I have seen many of the Wallender TV episodes starring Krister Hendricksson, which are superb. He captures the many layers of Wallender’s personality in a very human portrayal.
    It is a very sad day. We do have his books and TV episodes which are part of his legacy, as well as his activism and contributions in Mozambique.

    • I agree – Mankell was definitely one of the good guys. As you say, he leaves a tremendous legacy as a writer and as an activist.

      The Germans have a good word that applies very well to him: he was a Weltbürger or ‘citizen of the world’ in the best possible sense.

  7. Are there any suggestions on the best non-Wallender books? I read The Man from Beijing, a good book with a lot of locations and plot elements. It’s also intellectually provocative, as well as politically intriguing.

  8. I’ve never read him but plan to in the near future. His death was a complete shock to me. I read, after the fact, the chronicles of his life with cancer. He was so young. Thanks for this post, Mrs. P.

    • You’re welcome, Keishon. He was far too young. But how lovely that you have his novels to read now. I’m almost envious. He has a very distinctive authorial voice and the Wallander series will hopefully be a real treat for you.

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