The first page of the first chapter of Henning Mankell’s latest (and apparently last) Wallander novel The Troubled Man is sheer misery. Inspector Kurt Wallander, divorced for 15 years, lives in a flat “where so many unpleasant memories were etched into the walls”; he “reminded himself over and over again of his father’s lonely old age … now it seemed as if his father was taking him over … he had no religious hopes of anything being in store for him … nothing but the same darkness he had once emerged from … he would be dead for such a long time … he had seen far too many dead bodies in his life”.
Wallander novels might be prefaced by the sign Dante imagined above the gates of Hell ”“ “lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’ intrate”: “all hope abandon, ye who enter here”: for in these books, the descent is often through deepening layers of horror. The same could be said for much of rest of the now enormously popular, critically acclaimed school of Scandinavian noir ”“ for noir they are, set in the bleakness of towns and forests, dark for much of the year. The cult BBC hit of the year so far, the Danish-made Copenhagen-set The Killing, which ends this weekend, is shot almost wholly at night….
…the most striking commercial success in novel writing in the past five years has come from Marxists who write of people beset with misery who either commit or must deal with acts of extreme sadistic violence. It is not a development that a publisher or an agent would naturally have arrived at as a formula for success. So what explains its extraordinary appeal?