I keep seeing the Kurt Wallander series at the bookstore, and since I wanted to read a novel by a Swedish author, I decided to give the first novel in the series a shot. While there were some things I liked about this, I also found myself comparing it unfavorably to the Harry Hole series. Of course, this novel came out long before Harry Hole became popular in the States, so some of the cliches in this novel may not have been quite as cliched when this was originally published.
The novel begins with the murder of the elderly couple in the country who are discovered by their neighbors. The violence and randomness of the crime shock the nation, and Kurt Wallander is assigned to the case. Kurt's wife has left him, his relationship with his daughter is almost non-existent, he is struggling with his weight, and in this novel, he also is making bad decisions when it comes to drinking. However, he isn't a loose but brilliant cannon in the lines of Harry Hole, and in fact, comes off as occasionally incompetent. The wife of the elderly couple actually lived long enough to make it to the hospital and utter the word foreign, so in addition to facing a brutal crime, Wallander has to find the murderer soon enough to prevent any racially motivated crimes from occuring as a result of the tensions the murders cause to flare up.
I actually liked this part of the novel. Mankell shows us the slow investigation, with very few clues, and several possible motivations but none that truly stand out. The fact that this isn't some incredibly intricate case and instead something that probably resembles life was actually interesting. The murders lead to a hate crime which is solved more quickly than the main case of the novel.
The issue I mostly had is that Wallander isn't really a character I felt that invested in. While Hole makes mistakes, you still find yourself rooting for him to figure it all out. In the case of Wallander, I just kept thinking "stop bumbling around with your personal life." He becomes interested and makes a pass at a married prosecutor which honestly just pissed me off and made me not like him. Actually, I don't think I would have minded him making a verbal pass or slightly flirting with her, but the fact is he becomes a bit forceful. I can deal with a lot of things, and I realize detective novels aren't always the most gender friendly, but don't have the hero act like an entitled, sexist asshole and still expect me to want to read about him. He apologizes the next day with flowers, but seriously? This is supposed to be the flawed protagonist? There still needs to be something interesting or likable about him. Wallander on the other hand is a middle aged guy that doesn't know how to deal with his family, is having a bit of a midlife crisis as a result of his wife leaving him and is taking to drinking. This makes him a realistic enough character but I'm not sold on him being a great cop, nor am I sold on him being a good person who is having some bad luck given his forceful pursuit of a married woman that didn't express an initial interest.
Since I actually liked the approach to the mystery, and this was a very quick read, I would be willing to give the series another shot before completely writing it off. Maybe once Wallander has processed his impending divorce more, there will be a redeemable character hidden underneath.