THE PYRAMID
Henning Mankell

 


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Harvill Secker, 2008
Reviewed by Helen Lloyd

When Kurt Wallander first appeared in 1990 he was a senior police officer, forty-two years old and divorced. The five stories in this collection fill in Wallander's back story, from his first years in the police force until the beginning of that first book, FACELESS KILLERS.

The stories begin when a twenty-one year old Wallander finds his elderly neighbour shot dead. He is still a uniformed police officer in Malmo, but with a transfer to Criminal Investigation pending, his future boss encourages his involvement in the investigation of the apparent suicide.

A routine call on his way home on Christmas Eve 1975 turns into a terrifying couple of hours for Wallander in The Man with the Mask. In this suspenseful short story Wallander is held hostage by an armed and desperate man. Despite the circumstances, Wallander’s compassion and social conscience are evident.

By the third story, The Man on the Beach, and after a gap of 12 years, Wallander is settled in Ystad as a Chief Inspector, and all the familiar supporting characters from the books are there. When a taxi driver finds his passenger dead in the back seat, tests reveal he had been poisoned. Wallander discovers the long-standing obsession that led to the man’s death.

A man is found bashed to death in his studio in Death of the Photographer. Why someone who led such an apparently dull and routine life would be subject to such a brutal attack is mystifying, but the investigation reveals that the man had a secret life.

The last story, which gave the collection its name, is novella length, and takes place in December 1989. It leads right up to the beginning of FACELESS KILLERS - literally. In a clever touch, Mankell brings the beginning of FACELESS KILLERS into the last page of THE PYRAMID. In this complex story, Wallander and his team are stretched to the limit investigating several seemingly unrelated crimes: the crash of an unidentified small plane, drugs, and several apparently unconnected murders.

I found THE PYRAMID an extremely satisfying collection of stories. All the elements that helped form the Wallander we have come to know from the novels are here: Mona, the woman he married; his eccentric father, and their difficult relationship; and Rydberg, his mentor. And throughout is the theme common to the books, of a changing society – what was happening to Sweden?

These are typical Wallander stories, with the longer stories demonstrating the complex plots Mankell is known for. From that first case, Wallander displays the investigative style he will manifest throughout his career: the intuitive leaps, doggedness, tendency to make mistakes, and go it alone, often putting himself at risk in the process.

The stories chart the progress of Wallander’s seemingly always doomed relationship with Mona, first as girlfriend, then wife and ex-wife. The conflict between his career and the relationship is clear from the beginning. Even when Wallander is married to her, Mona’s role in the stories is insignificant, and she remains a shadowy figure in the background.

Rydberg, the mentor whose wisdom he constantly refers to in the novels, is likewise hardly any more fleshed out. Wallander’s early years in Ystad, when Rydberg’s guidance would have been most evident, are not covered in any of the stories. Rydberg spends a lot of the time off sick, so we see only a little interaction between them.

According to Mankell’s Foreword to this book, this collection came into being when he realised that he had started writing stories in his head that took place long before that day in January 1990 when the Wallander series began. Two of the stories have not been published before.

Most short story collections lend themselves to being dipped into, picking a story here and a story there. However, THE PYRAMID is better read as a whole from beginning to end. THE PYRAMID is essential reading for fans of the Kurt Wallander series, but reads well on its own, and it would work well as a first introduction to Wallander for newcomers to the series.

Oct 2008 review originally posted on Murder and Mayhem

 

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