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Henning Mankell

Updated on December 10, 2014
Henning Mankell
Henning Mankell | Source

Much More than a Master of Nordic Noir

I first found Henning Mankell through his crime fiction featuring the melancholy Swedish sleuth Kurt Wallander. That's understandable, those novels have been translated into more than 40 languages and have sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. I was thrilled by the film adaptations and the TV series too.

The landscape ever present in the Wallander novels beguiled me, the long twilights shadowing the undisturbed forests, the extensive mires and swampy lands, the lakes and waterways, the dreamlike feeling of an eerie territory. Some part of me responded to this land of bitter wind, of ice and snow.

So I was very surprised to learn that Mankell has spent much of his adult life in Africa. He stands, as he says himself, "with one foot in the snow and one foot in the sand".

Blood on the Snow

Nordic Noir

Scandinavian detective fiction bleakly portrays people and events in the grimmest of ways, it's full of brutal killers and moody detectives as chilly and gloomy as the winter.

One of these detectives is Kurt Wallander, created by Henning Mankell.

Mankell cites Macbeth as the best crime story he has ever read

Krister Henriksson as Kurt Wallander
Krister Henriksson as Kurt Wallander | Source

Kurt Wallander

Wallander muddles along most days trying to make sense of modern Sweden, listening to opera during the dreadful winters, and frequently overcome by Scandinavian melancholy. His wife has left him, his daughter won't speak to him, and he has an infuriating elderly father who paints the same landscape over and over, seven thousand times in all.

Wallander lives a less-than-desirable lifestyle, eats badly, and drinks his nights away in a lonely, neglected flat. Over the years he's become increasingly disillusioned with his work and despairs of the racism growing in Sweden. Kurt is a complex, moody man with a sharp intellect and an intuitive grasp of the hidden motivations of others. His colleagues, although frustrated by his brusque manner, respect his judgement.

It's the complexity of Wallander's character that endear him to us. We understand his frustration in the over-stretched workplace, his disheartenment with the selfishness of the younger generation and we understand, also, his fears of growing old.

Krister Henriksson as Wallander : NDLA

The First Wallander - A dark murder, a gripping mystery and a statement against racism

Faceless Killers
Faceless Killers

A brutal assault against an elderly couple, attacks targeting illegal immigrants, a xenophobic vigilante who takes matters into his own hands ...


Henning Mankell and Actor Krister Henriksson on Wallander

The Last Wallander

I was shocked by this last in the series. Shocked and so very sorry that this is the very last time we will see Wallander

The Troubled Man
The Troubled Man

This is the Paperback format as the Kindle edition, for some strange reason, has no price attached. That oversight is as strange as the manner in which Mankell puts a definite end to the Wallander series


Another Detective from the Dark Lands of the North

Reykjavik was settled in about the year 870 by some distinctly odd characters. There seem to be some odd characters still there today, at least those I meet in fiction are highly peculiar.

Kennedy's Brain (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)
Kennedy's Brain (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)

A Swedish archeologist investigates the mysterious events around her son's apparent suicide, leading to a horrifying discovery


Other Novels from Henning Mankell

Mankell writes a lot more than just the Wallander novels.

Here are a couple of stand-alone novels which reveal geopolitical corruption and hard to swallow truths about humanity.

Chilling Mysteries - The Search for Truth

The Poor will do anything to earn money.

Even sell part of their bodies

Books for Younger Teens

Henning Mankell was born in Stockholm in 1948.. When his mother left the family home, Mankell and his sister were brought up by their father in a small town in northern Sweden.

His experience growing up as a motherless boy helped form his imagination and certainly helped to fix childhood memories forever.

The Joel Gustafson series is set in a secluded, small northern town in Sweden in 1956, where eleven-year old Joel lives with his father Samuel.

There are two things Joel has difficulty with. 'not knowing why, and not being able to do anything about it'.

Henning Mankell

Joel Novels - For younger readers

Mankell's teenage novels are moving, incredibly satisfying, and I'm glad that they're translated into English.

Shadows in the Twilight (Joel Gustafson Stories Book 2)
Shadows in the Twilight (Joel Gustafson Stories Book 2)

An independent sequel to A Bridge to the Stars and Joel, 12, experiences a Miracle

A Bridge to the Stars (Joel Gustafson Stories Book 1)
A Bridge to the Stars (Joel Gustafson Stories Book 1)

The first novel of the ever-questioning eleven-year-old Joel Gustafsson


Mankell is Honoured on Swedish Currency

Mankell is a Dramatist and Artistic Director

Mankell is not a typical crime writer, he's not so much attracted to the genre for its own pleasures but rather for its abilities to highlight social concerns. That's what attracted me to his Wallander novels in the first place.

But Mankell is primarily one of Sweden's most frequently played dramatists. He wrote his first play, The Amusement Park, in 1972 while working as a stagehand in Stockholm. It's the language barrier that stops me appreciating his stage dramas, I can't read Swedish and must wait for a published translation.

The theatre is his first love and, since 1986, he has been working as the Artistic Director of a theatre company in Maputo, Mozambique, where plays are performed mainly in Portuguese.

With Mutumbela Gogo in Maputo (Henning Mankell)

Teatro Avenido in Mozambique

Henning Mankell

Teatro Avenida, home to Maputo's best-known theatre group, Mutumbela Gogo.

How about you?

Have you read any books by Henning Mankell?

See results

What do you think of Mankell's books? Do they appeal to you? All comments are greatly appreciated.

© 2013 Susanna Duffy

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    • Arachnea profile image

      Tanya Jones 3 years ago from Texas USA

      I've read the first book in the Walander series, but find I enjoy the tv series more. I waiting for the next in the series which should be available in 2015. Branagh is my favorite in the role of Walander.

    • williamslaw profile image

      williamslaw 3 years ago

      Wonderful! Love your lens.

    • profile image

      Ask_Me 4 years ago

      I've watched the Wallander TV shows with Kenneth Branagh and enjoyed them

    • profile image

      Agapantha 4 years ago

      I've watched the Wallander series, in Swedish and the English versions, and really enjoyed them

    • mariacarbonara profile image

      mariacarbonara 4 years ago

      Never read the books or caught the tv series, but you have got my interest and will take a look. Interesting lens.

    • lesliesinclair profile image

      lesliesinclair 4 years ago

      Now I'm interested in reading this series. It's the focus on social concerns that interests me.

    • Erin Mellor profile image

      Erin Mellor 4 years ago from Europe

      I've been watching the older Wallender series and I love it. I've got the Booker longlist to read now, but I think I'll plan in an autumn and winter of Scandi-reading. You've convinced me to switch of my TV and read more. I've never read a Nordic Noir I didn't like (well, maybe one was a bit of a plodder, but it was Estonian, so that doesn't count).

    • dbitterman profile image

      dbitterman 4 years ago

      Please add another choice to your Poll - "No, I haven't read any, nor have I seen the TV series, but this lens has intrigued me to pick a Mankell book up." That would be my vote. Your description of the Swedish surroundins in the first module reminded me of the Sondheim lyrics of "A Little Night Music" (which takes place in Sweden): "Perpetual sunset is rather an unsettling thing." Thank you.

    • FanfrelucheHubs profile image

      Nathalie Roy 4 years ago from France (Canadian expat)

      I have seen a couple Wallander episodes and enjoyed them. I had no idea the character originated from a book series. I'll add them to my to read list. I love Nordic noir!

    • oztoo lm profile image

      oztoo lm 4 years ago

      I'm afraid I haven't read any of Mankell's books or seen the TV show but I do think I would find them interesting.

    • jmsp206 profile image

      Julia M S Pearce 4 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      I love Mankell's books,must read some more. Great crime series on T.V too.