A Big Disappointment

The_Troubled_Man_Kurt_Wallander-68980It's not unusual for an author to grow to resent the fictional character that has come to define him. Or for an author to want to end a long-running series so he can move on to new challenges.

Writing that final book can reveal a lot about how the author feels about his character. That book can be a triumph (like Agatha Chrisitie's CURTAIN) or a crushing disappointment, like Henning Mankell's THE TROUBLED MAN, his final Wallander, which I just finshed (albeit as a book on tape).

In this plodding book, Wallander investigates the disappearance of his daughter's presumptive in-laws and worries about his own, possible descent into Alzheimers.

I won't go into too much detail about the meandering, slow–moving story, except to say Mankell was astonishingly lazy in his plotting. He seems to have made up the plot as he went along, with no clear idea of where he was going or what the solution to the mystery would be…or how all the clues he was making up on the fly would all fit together. There's a stunningly inane, unbelievable, and contrived coincidence a third of the way through the book that requires such a massive suspension of disbelief that it ruins the novel. What's even more perplexing is that, plotwise, stooping to such a ridiculous coincidence ultimately ends up being totally unnecessary. It could have been cut without changing the course of the book at all.

There are other plotting problems, ones you'd expect from a novice rather than an accomplished pro like Mankell. Whenever Wallander has a gap in his knowledge, rather than come up with a clever and interesting way for the detective to find out what he needs to know, Mankell creates instant expository characters to conveniently give Wallander the specific answers he needs and then leave the stage, never to be seen again in the novel.

As a mystery, this book is a big, and often frustrating, disappointment that comes to a very unsatisfying, clumsy conclusion that leaves many clues unexplained and most of the questions unanswered. But the novel does work as a melancholy look into the life of Kurt Wallander, a lonely and sad policeman who feels his age and fears that he is losing his grasp on his memory.

That said, Wallander's ultimate, dismal fate is dashed off in a short, terse paragraph, one that's bound to infuriate fans who have come to love the detective over the years…and that, I believe, reveals Mankell's disdain for the character that has made him an international bestselling author. 

4 thoughts on “A Big Disappointment”

  1. Long, LONG before I ever sold and was reading everything to do with writing books (and mysteries in particular!), I found a piece in “Murder Ink” that addressed this issue. It stuck. The article cited examples of writers becoming bored with the character everyone else loves and just goes through the motions when squeezing out another story. Doyle killing off Holmes and bringing him back for the money was chief among them.
    Young little know-nothing me vowed not to let that happen in my future writing career. Should I ever tire of the series I would respect my readers enough not to drop an “eff you” ending on them. So far, so good. I never forget that without those readers I’d have no career at all.
    Thanks for the warning about the book. Too bad this writer missed that article. He might have been kinder to his fans.

  2. Although I didn’t create DIAGNOSIS MURDER, the TV series or the books, I was the steward of the franchise for many years. And when I decided to end it with my book DIAGNOSIS MURDER: THE LAST WORD, I thought I treated the series and the characters well, delivering the best mystery I knew how to write. I didn’t trash them. I’ve now written what may be the final MONK novel… and I gave it my all, too. I don’t get how a writer can end a series and disrespect the reader/viewer by trashing what he has put so much effort into building. I agree, Mankell could have shown a lot more respect to his long-time readers…and the character that made him a celebrity.

  3. If we’re ever at the same convention again, we have GOT to do a panel on this topic.
    It’s too late for Mankell, but the neos coming up should learn this stuff. ;0)

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