The Troubled Man opens with a swift recap of events in Inspector Wallander’s life in the 5 years since the last novel in this popular ten-part series. He has moved from his flat in Ystaad to an old house in the surrounding countryside, near to where his (deceased) father, an unstable artist, lived. He’s still employed as a policeman but is considerably detached from his career, having stepped aside from the bureaucratic chain of command and connecting only with his longstanding colleague Martinsson. The investigations he undertakes are routine and intellectually undemanding, if emotionally distressing, usually involving domestic or drunken abuse of various kinds.
In the present-day, at the proper start of The Troubled Man, Wallander is 60 and is shaken from his routine when his daughter Linda, also a police officer but seemingly not based at the same station as her father, tells him she is pregnant and is living with the putative father, a financial investor called Hans von Ecke. Linda is like her father, irascible, independent and up-front: the two of them have an opinionated, close relationship and delight in the birth of the baby. Wallander meets Hans’s parents, Hakan and Louise von Ecke. Hakan is an ex-naval commander, at 75 somewhat older than Wallander, and the two men get on well – even to the extent that the reticent, noble-born Hakan begins to confide some worrying hints to the policeman.
The rest of the novel is a parallel tale: that of an “off the books” investigation by Wallander, enabled by his absence from work due to injury and taking accrued holiday; and that of Wallander’s own melancholy introspection and fears of “losing it”, from which only Linda, here symbolising the life-force, can release him. Although the troubled man of the title is identified as von Ecke, the description increasingly comes to apply more appropriately to Wallander himself, as he worries about his declining powers and reflects on his past. His depression, lurching sometimes into despair, is deepened by a visit from an old girlfriend (the romance between her and Wallander is told in a previous book, The Dogs of Riga).
How to sum up? The specific investigation undertaken by Wallander is very slow and drawn-out, mainly driven by his own self-curiosity and perhaps a desire to provide some clarity for Linda and Hans about Hans’s family. Although political convictions are central to the mystery, they don’t seem to be of much interest to Wallander. The least satisfying aspect of the mystery theme is that many small details are presented to the reader throughout, yet left hanging in the air at the end in a disappointing fashion – even though the main conundrum is solved. Individuals relevant to the case are similarly ignored, even after undertaking dramatic actions. The second main aspect of the novel, that of Wallander’s introspective inner life and his elegiac musings on the past (sometimes accompanied by real encounters), is perhaps more significant to the author, and I found this story very absorbing, not least in what it has to say about family relationships and loyalties. One would have had to have read all or most of the previous Wallander books to identify with it, I think. This latter theme is fully resolved, perhaps shockingly but in keeping with what we know of Wallander and his family. Despite its occasional plot flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and think it a fitting end to this high-quality series.
I thank Karen of Euro Crime for lending me her copy of this book. Her excellent Euro Crime review of this novel is here.
The Wallander series, in reading order. (Not the same as publication order.) The series consists of ten novels and a collection of short stories (The Pyramid).
(*A quibble to the publisher: why is the book jacket a picture of a man looking at a snowy landscape? There is no snow in the book, but many lovely descriptions of the countryside round Wallander’s house, which surely could have made a more original cover design.)