Eighteen months after the events of The White Lioness, Kurt Wallander is still suffering from manic depression. On sick leave, living life of a drifter, he has become a solitary nomad roaming alone on a beach in Denmark. His emotional life is so wrought that he has decided to quit the police force for good. So when a friend seeks help to look into suspicious death of his father, Wallander turns him down. But on the morning he is supposed to retire, he reads the news of his friend’s murder. This incident shakes him back to life and instead of quitting; Kurt takes charge of the investigation.
I am divided in my opinion. The Man Who Smiled is a mixed book. The investigation is rulebook police procedural – slow, boring, and tedious especially because the perpetrator is a business tycoon adept at creating a complex web of financial intricacies that are very difficult to track. But the crime and its final solution are melodramatic to the core. What kept me going was Wallander himself. He is a forceful central character who kindles different emotions within you. I like his work, his methodical approach and integrity and yet I am not his fan when it comes to his personal life. He cannot prevent himself from going downhill – has bouts of binge drinking and generally cannot take control of his life.
The premise of the book is good. The plot talks about the changing face of once conservative and honest Sweden. With a fast changing world, Sweden cannot keep itself immune to the goings on that threatens its welfare society. Like Sjowall and Wahloo, Mankell uses his stories to point out the widening cracks of injustice and loss of morale. The introduction of Ann-Britt Hoglund is a welcome change. She is young, smart and represents changing face of police force. Like previous books, The Man Who Smiled uses the bleak, daunting and chilly landscape of Ystad beautifully to catch the mood of the investigation that is as drab and tricky.
Where the book let me down is in the end. Admitted, Wallander does not always play by the rules, prefers to be solitary and has his flashes of ingenuity, but the end was too over the top by the standards of the series. It was like watching a masala Bollywood movie where the Hero enters the den of the villain alone and thrashes his goons single handed. It was too cliché and far fetched.
This is not among the better books from the series; however it is readable for Wallander and the sudden course of events through which his life has come a full circle as a policeman.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your time.
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