Book review: Before the Frost by Henning Mankell

Posted on Sunday, December 12th, 2010

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Henning Mankell has been busy lately writing about the recent Swedish election and experimenting with new thriller formulas such as his latest novel, The Man from Beijing.

After his long running popular Kurt Wallander novels, adapted for a TV series in the UK earlier this year, he has officially dropped the famous police inspector. He first moved the focus away from Inspector Wallander in Before the Frost, (2005) which gives his daughter the lead role with mixed success.

On the positive side, Linda Wallander is a very well drawn character. She’s multi-dimensional with strong points, her determination to succeed and understanding of people’s motivations as well as flaws, a short temper and tendency to wallow in teenage angst. She is determined to be as successful as her father in her chosen career as a policewoman. Mankell really brings out how much Linda wants to impress her father as she constantly compares her work life and even personality traits with his. This becomes more obvious as she throws herself into one of his investigations while waiting a couple of months to officially start work at Ystad police station.

Her father is called up after two apparently unrelated acts of violence: a massacre in Guyana and the sadistic killing of half a dozen swans on a lake in Sweden. Linda becomes more directly involved when a close friend of hers, Anna, disappears. During her role in the investigation, we see she does match her father in her insight into people’s characters. She is a very perceptive person able to draw conclusions from somebody’s body language or comment.

At the same time, we don’t just see Linda as an all round good character. She is quick to fly off the handle, at one point throwing an ashtray at her father. The aftermath of these incidents are also well described as Linda feels a mixture of regret and shame at losing her temper. In addition, while around her parents she sometimes behaves as a teenager. Mankell shows that he can still remember what it’s like to actually be this age. Also, given that Linda is forced to live with her father (her parents are divorced) she is in a similar position to a 16 year old. She also has her attempted teenage suicide at the back of her mind. She’s constantly doubting herself, although we see her growing in confidence with her successes as a police investigator.

The real weakness of the novel, in my opinion, is Linda’s friend Anna. It is difficult to understand how logical minded Linda is friends with a religious fanatic. The fact that she’s got keys to Anna’s apartment is either strange or simply lost in translation. Anyone from a city will find it amazing that Linda could walk in and out of Anna’s flat while she was reported missing.
Anna goes off suddenly after thinking she’s seen her father who left years ago to become part of a religious group that organises sadistic religious rituals. The fact that Anna turns out to have another life in a different city is a little far-fetched. If Anna was a more convincing character then the plot would be more credible. It’s well-paced and there are exciting twists and turns, but it’s really let down by Anna’s personality and unrealistic motivations.

Overall, the novel is well done and an imaginative extension of the Kurt Wallander series. However, its reception has not been as impressive as his earlier Wallander novels which arguably mark his peak as a thriller writer.

Makell is a butterfly author unsure what to land on after his successful Wallander series.

This psychological thriller is reviewed by our guest blogger Anna Roxelana. Thanks for this great review, Anna!

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Our rating: ★★★½☆

  • Author: Henning Mankell
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (February 14, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400095816
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400095810

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Tagged as 2006, crime, election, Fiction, frost, henning mankell, kurt wallender, linda wallender, Scandinavian, Sweden, Thriller+ Categorized as By year, 2006, By rating, 3 Stars, By genre, By rating, By year, By genre, Thriller

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