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Sidetracked by Henning Mankel

July 25, 2009

This book starts with two seemingly unrelated but equally gruesome incidents. In one, Swedish inspector Kurt Wallander is called out to a farm to investigate a complaint of a trespasser in the crop fields. There, he finds a young, obviously frightened girl. But before he can talk to her, she douses herself in gasoline and lights herself on fire. Not far from there, a retired politician walks down to the beach from his home before turning in for bed. There, he is hatcheted in the back by what appears to him to be a dwarf.

This is the fifth book in Mankel’s series about a Swedish detective Kurt Wallander. I haven’t read any of the others, but it was easy to get a sense of Wallander’s character and I actually liked the allusions to the other stories without much explanation.

I don’t read a lot of crime fiction, but a friend recommended this book, and it held up well to James Patterson and other similar books that I have read. It’s fast-paced, smartly written and has plenty of twists and turns. Mankel deftly balances what he reveals and what he keeps a mystery, inserting just enough of the scenes where the crimes are committed to keep it suspenseful but not give too much away. It’s also not a perfectly plotted crime novel—it’s messy, with mistakes and dead ends, which gives it a more realistic feel. And Mankel adds pieces of dialogue and side plots about personal life to make him seem well-rounded without bogging down in it. Overall, a pretty enjoyable summer read.

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