Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Pyramid: And Four Other Kurt Wallander Mysteries (Wallander, #9)The Pyramid: And Four Other Kurt Wallander Mysteries by Henning Mankell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Henning Mankell's "The Pyramid" is a collection of five stories about cases from various stages in Kurt Wallander's career. The first four are short stories, the final item is a novella.

"Wallander's First Case": June 1969. 21-year old Wallander is a patrolman, and when his neighbor commits suicide, Kurt learns the art of detection from inspector Hemberg. Wallander is dating Mona - things do not go quite smoothly; the relationship with his father is also rough. One of the marginal characters is a Hungarian tobacconist, which, I believe, is a tribute to Monty Python's famous "Hungarian Phrasebook" sketch. This short story is an OK procedural.

"The Man with the Mask": December 1975. This very short story reads like a script for a one-act stage play. The emerging tension in Wallander's married life is juxtaposed with the acute tension of dealing with a life-threatening situation. Quite formulaic but riveting.

"The Man on the Beach": April 1987. Another very short story. A man calls a taxi and then proceeds to die, unnoticed, in the back seat. The plot builds logically, from the intriguing premise to the conclusion. Wallander's intuition, as usual, plays an important role.

"The Death of the Photographer": April 1988. Mona and Linda have left Wallander and while seeking direction in life he leads an investigation into the death of a small-town photographer. Disturbing images have been found in a photo album, but the investigation does not progress until a crucial fact from the distant past is discovered. At that point, the solution becomes obvious.

"The Pyramid": December 1989 - January 1990: A plane goes down on the south coast of Sweden. According to the records, the plane does not exist. The sewing accessories store run by elderly sisters is blown up. Wallander suspects the two cases are connected. The police procedural thread is very interesting, but it is the sub-story related to the telex message that Wallander receives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that is the high point of the novel. It is amazingly original and really, really funny, with a sort of surreal touch. And Wallander crosses the Nile for the sixth time!

I find the first four stories just so-so. Their very short format is not conducive to social and psychological observations, at least for Mr. Mankell. They are still fun to read, but the fun feels a bit superficial. "The Pyramid", though, is superb. Engrossing plot, psychological depth, lots of funny bits and pieces, clever ambiguity of the title, what else can one want from a short novel? Thus, the average rating of the collection comes to

Three stars.

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