Books Fifty-Four and Fifty-Five: The White Lioness and One Step Behind

More Swedish detective novels! I’m on a jag. These two happened to be on the new and noteworthy shelf at the library, and they looked interesting, so I grabbed them.

The White Lioness 

Oddly enough, the book is about the end of apartheid in South Africa, which was amusing to me because I’d just been working on an article on the same subject. At any rate, the narrative in the book is split between Sweden and South Africa, offering social commentary on apartheid along with a complex mystery which was almost too meandering and convoluted to be true, but somehow Mankell pulled it off. (The book was published in Sweden in 1993, incidentally, when apartheid was a very hot issue.)

This is obviously one of a series, and I think that I missed bits because I hadn’t read earlier books, but it was basically comprehensible. I like the lead character, Wallander, who is described as a short, chubby, seemingly ineffectual policeman who is actually quite brilliant, gentle, and sensitive. When he is forced to kill someone in one of the scenes, you get the impression that this is an agonizing and unpleasant act, a far change from American detective novels, where cops are always popping people off.

I’m not always a fan of books with a split narrative, because I think that it doesn’t usually work very well. In this case, however, I was pleased to see that it flowed in a logical, sensible sort of way, with a lot of clean, seamless transitions which made it much easier to swallow. It helped also to have a clear connection between the narratives, and characters in both which interested me, keeping me engaged in what was happening.


The White Lioness, by Henning Mankell. Translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson. Published 1998, 440 pages. Fiction.

One Step Behind

Another split plot, which appears to be the Hankell signature. I dig it, seeing what is going on in the mind of the murderer while also following the course of the investigation. In this instance, the story was about a brutal and interesting series of murders. I loved watching Wallander put the pieces of the puzzle together while also following the actions of the murderer, and trying to figure him out as I learned more about him.

It was also interesting to look at the decline of Wallander’s health, as he struggles with diabetes and sleep deprivation. Police work can be very grueling, and I think it is captured well in these novels, although I wonder why Wallender doesn’t die from lack of sleep, or go totally insane. It’s especially interesting to see him charging around in the middle of the night, breaking into flats and acting on sudden intuition. I can’t imagine getting away with that here, or in Sweden, really.

At some point I will read a real book again, I swear. But I have a stack from the Story of a Crime
series waiting to be picked up at the library, so be prepared for a slog through Sweden with me!


One Step Behind, by Henning Mankell. Translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segerberg. Published 2002, 440 pages. Fiction.