Eurotour Stop 6. Riga, Latvia: “He left the hotel and went in search of the bookshop”

Sveiki from Riga! Today’s extract is from…

Henning Mankell, The Dogs of Riga (trans. from Swedish by Laurie Thompson, Vintage, 2004 [1992]). 

The extract is set in 1991, shortly after the collapse of Communism in eastern Europe. Wallander has travelled to Riga to investigate a case.

“I’d like to go back to the hotel now,” Wallander said when Zids appeared in the doorway. “I have quite a lot of notes to write up in my room this evening. You can come and collect me at 8 a.m. tomorrow.”

When the sergeant had left him at his hotel, Wallander bought some postcards and stamps in reception. He also asked for a map of the city, but as the map the hotel had was not detailed enough, he was directed to a bookshop not far away.

Wallander looked around in the foyer, but couldn’t see anyone drinking tea or reading a newspaper. That means they’re still here, he thought. One day they’ll be obvious, the next they’ll be invisible. I’m supposed to doubt whether the shadows exist.

He left the hotel and went in search of the bookshop. It was already dark and the pavement was wet from sleet. There were a lot of people about, and Wallander stopped now and then to look in shop windows. The goods on display were limited, and much of a muchness. When he got to the bookshop, he glanced back over his shoulder: there was no sign of anybody hesitating mid-stride.

An elderly gentleman who didn’t speak a word of English sold him a map of Riga. He went on and on in Latvian, as if he took it for granted that Wallander could understand every word. He returned to his hotel. Somewhere in front of him was a shadow he couldn’t see. He made up his mind to ask one of the colonels the next day why he was being watched. He thought he’d broach the subject in a friendly fashion, without sarcasm or aggression.

He asked at reception if anybody had tried to contact him. “No calls, Mr Wallander, no calls at all,” was the answer.

He went to his room and sat down to write his postcards, moving the desk away from the window, to avoid the draught. He chose a card with a picture of Riga Cathedral to send to Björk.

It’s over twenty-five years since Wallander visited Riga. Latvia is now an EU member state with a fully functioning democracy and, while signs of the communist era are still visible (neglected old buildings waiting to be rescued), there is a sense of a society and an economy on the up. We’ve really enjoyed our time here.

Riga is full to the brim of beautiful Art Nouveau buildings built in the 1910s. Everywhere you look, there’s another gem.

But there are some stunning modern buildings as well, such as the Latvian National Library (or Glass Mountain, named after an important Latvian fairy tale).

There’s an enormous market down by the river too (four giant hangers), selling everything from mushrooms and pork to eel and pickles.

Riga’s old town feels much less twee than Tallinn’s. Here’s a bit of Riga Cathedral, as featured on Wallander’s postcard.

This is the imposing Freedom Monument (erected in 1935 to commemorate those who died in the War of Latvian Independence, 1918-20).

And the lovely park by it, where you can have a coffee and a pastry.

The orthodox Russian cathedral has some beautiful detail.

Lastly, here’s a view over the river Daugava, with a little remnant of Communism on one of the panels of the railing… which takes us back to Wallander in 1991.

Click here for an overview of Mrs. Peabody’s Eurotour

12 thoughts on “Eurotour Stop 6. Riga, Latvia: “He left the hotel and went in search of the bookshop”

  1. What lovely ‘photos, Mrs. P.! And it looks as though Riga has some real beauty spots. Clever of you to use that Wallander story, too – nice choice. So glad you’re enjoying your trip.

    • Thanks, Margot! I had a feeling that Wallander was going to pop up at some point on this tour, and he actually saved my bacon, because crime novels featuring Riga aren’t that numerous, at least not in translation. Tallinn was a similar story, and I haven’t managed to find an extract for Vilnius, where we’ll be tomorrow, at all. An interesting but possibly not unexpected finding…

      I really like Riga a lot – will be sad to leave, but hope to make it a regular stop in future.

  2. Morning Mrs P. So glad you’re still having a fantastic time.
    For me, Wallander pips the post as being my all time favourite detective, which made him even more so by BBC4 bringing Krister Henriksson to our screens. When they were written the books made Riga sound an uninviting even somewhat dangerous place to visit, but your fab photos show that these days it’s a vibrant and beautiful city.
    That market is amazing….you don’t see sauerkraut and pickled gherkins like that here 😕….

    • Good evening, Kathy P! I’m with you on Wallander. One of the all-time greats as far as I’m concerned. The Dogs of Riga is one of my favourites in the series, because it captures that difficult and risky moment of transition at the end of the Cold War really well. My sense is that the Latvians have grabbed the opportunities that moment gave them to the full (as have the other Baltic states).

      The market, on the other hand, seems utterly timeless. You could imagine that pickle stall looking pretty much the same a hundred years ago… Wish we had one like it down at Swansea market!

  3. I’m certainly with you re the market Mrs P. I wish we had ones like that here, but I wouldn’t mind betting the food health and hygiene people would have a field day seeing all that uncovered food open to the elements….clipboards at the ready 😐.

  4. Beautiful architecture. Who would have thought it so in Riga? I love the Art Nouveau designs
    But eel? I like the huge market idea, but would pass on some of its offerings.
    And if I ever get time, I will read this Wallender book.

    • There are spectacular Art Nouveau buildings wherever you look… I’d draw the line at eel too, but the herring with pickled gherkins and dill is very tasty! 🙂

      If you have the time, Dogs of Riga is a fascinating snapshot of a particular political/historical moment. It’s also one of my favourites in terms of Wallander’s own reflections and journey.

  5. Herring with pickled gherkins and dill sounds good.
    Grew up with a mother who loved everything pickled — herring, tomatoes, beets, “pigs’ feet” (really!), and just pickles.

  6. My Aunt was the same Kathy D. As a child I remember her pickling everything in sight, except pigs feet though. We couldn’t move in the scullery for the biggest Kilner jars you could find. Happy days…

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