The Fifth Woman

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.

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6 Responses to The Fifth Woman

  1. Teresa says:

    I think you’re right that the difference in our reactions has to do with the genre. I like procedurals, but they’re not my favorite crime novels. As procedurals go, I thought Sidetracked was quite good, and if I get in the mood for a procedural I’ll read another. It’s nice to know who the good authors are in subgenres I tend to only like.

    • Jenny says:

      I think my favorite procedurals are Ed McBain’s 57th Precinct ones. If you ever try those, check out two or three of them at a time, preferably in order if you can get them from Paperback Swap or something. They are short, and to my mind totally addictive. And if I could get hold of more of K.C. Constantine’s, I think I’d adore his, too.

      • Teresa says:

        I read a few Ed McBain’s years ago and, from what I remember, I liked them. That was when I was ODing on crime novels, so I never went back for more.

        I’d like to watch the Wallander series with Kenneth Branagh at some point. I’ve gotten hooked on many TV procedurals, more so than books.

  2. Lisa says:

    I really enjoy police procedurals as well. I like the investigation of people’s lives, going through someone’s apartment or office, trying to build up a picture of the person and looking for things that might have gotten her killed – and watching the detectives build the case. How do these rate on the violence scale? I prefer the cozy end myself – not completely bloodless, but I don’t like sadistic serial killers described in gory detail.

    • Jenny says:

      That’s exactly what I like about them, too, Lisa. I feel like my nosiness is being indulged. This book rated about a five on the gruesome scale. There are a couple of chapters where what the killer is doing is described, from their perspective, but I didn’t feel it was overwhelming. Mostly glimpses. Definitely not on the level of, say, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but definitely not Miss Marple. :)

  3. boardinginmyforties says:

    I like a good police procedural so this one will be added to my list.

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