In the sixth Kurt Wallander novel by Henning Mankell, Wallander must solve an apparently unconnected series of brutal murders. The method of each murder is completely different, the victims didn’t know each other or live near each other, and nothing else seems to offer the least encouragement to the investigative team. Wallander’s personal problems add to the difficulty, slowing his thinking and troubling his sleep.
I read this book for my mystery book club, and I did not expect to like it. I read the first in this series, Faceless Killers, years ago — maybe as much as ten years ago — and found it tedious and grim. But I was pleasantly surprised this time around.
The Fifth Woman is a classic police procedural, a crime subgenre I tend to like a lot. (Teresa reviewed the fifth in the Wallander series, Sidetracked, for our international crime month, and she wasn’t as favorably impressed, maybe because she’s not as fond of procedurals.) One of the things I liked best about the book was the sense that I was getting investigative details: the way it’s necessary to go through the victim’s entire life, and then when new information comes in, to go through it again, and then again. I also enjoyed the way Wallander takes time during his investigation to think. So many detectives have hunches and inspirations, and a-ha! Of course! Let’s look in the field behind the house! Not Wallander: he sits in his car, or at his desk, and puzzles until his puzzler is sore, and even then he doesn’t make connections right away. It felt realistic to me.
The story is built so that the reader moves between Wallander’s investigations and the killer’s mind. You don’t know who the killer is, exactly, but you can tell when Wallander’s on the right track. This lent extra suspense to the story. I thought the detectives were all believable, and I enjoyed the rapport they shared, especially between the men and women on the team. Wallander’s personal life was interesting and relevant, but not intrusive — I didn’t get tired of reading about his grief or his girlfriend. All in all, I thought this was a well-written and enjoyable novel. While I usually read series in order, I didn’t think it was a problem to read this one first, and I’ll probably look for more.