Vol. 27 (2020) pp.114-127.

Title: Events below the Surface: A Reading of Henning Mankell’s The Troubled Man

Author: John Lingard
Statement of responsibility:
Marked up by
Martin Holmes

Marked up to be included in the Scandinavian-Canadian Journal
Source(s): Lingard, John. 2020. Events below the Surface: A Reading of Henning Mankell’s The Troubled Man. Scandinavian-Canadian Journal / Études scandinaves au Canada 27: 114-127.
Text classification:
  • crime fiction
  • Mankell, Henning
  • Wallander, Kurt
  • Swedish literature
  • MDH: Added emphasis (italics) in several translations of quotations 16th September 2020
  • MDH: Entered one wording correction and one name correction per author 15th September 2020
  • MDH: encoded French abstract 4th August 2020
  • MDH: entered editor's proofing corrections 10th June 2020
  • MDH: entered authors' proofing corrections 27th May 2020
  • MDH: started markup 22nd May 2020

Events below the Surface: A Reading of Henning Mankell’s The Troubled Man

John Lingard

ABSTRACT: Den orolige mannen (2009) [The Troubled Man, 2011] is Henning Mankell’s twelfth and last Kurt Wallander novel. Uniquely in the series, it combines detective and spy fiction. Its rich metaphoric texture is based on a continued play between surface and depth, between what is illusory and what is true. Wallander’s investigation into the disappearance of an aristocratic former naval officer, Håkan von Enke, and the death of that officer’s wife Louise, takes the detective back into the Cold War with its atmosphere of spies, moles, and treachery. Mankell also offers readers an unprecedented look into Wallander’s inner life where increasing moments of forgetfulness are leading him towards “det tomma universum som heter Alzheimer” [the empty universe that is called Alzheimer’s] (555). The novel is further enhanced by a metafictional retrospect of Wallander’s earlier career and his most important relationships: with his daughter Linda and the love of his life, Baiba Liepa.
RÉSUMÉ : Den orolige mannen [L’homme perturbé] est le douzième et dernier roman de Henning Mankel dans la série de Kurt Wallander. Unique au sein de la série, il combine le roman policier et le roman d’espionnage. Son riche caractère métaphorique est basé sur un jeu continu entre ce qui apparaît en surface et ce qui demeure en profondeur, entre l’illusoire et le vrai. L’enquête de Kurt Wallander sur la disparition d’un aristocrate, ancien officier de marine, Håkan von Enke, et la mort de la femme de cet officier, Louise, ramène le détective à la guerre froide avec son atmosphère d’espions, de taupes et de trahison. Mankell propose également aux lecteurs un regard inédit sur la vie intérieure de Wallander, où des moments d’oubli croissants le conduisent vers «det tomma universum som heter Alzheimer» [l’univers vide que l’on appelle l’Alzheimer] (555). Le roman est complété par une rétrospective méta-fictive de la carrière antérieure de Wallander et de ses relations les plus importantes : celle avec sa fille Linda et celle avec l’amour de sa vie, Baiba Liepa.


Den orolige mannen (2009) [The Troubled Man, 2011] is the twelfth and last of Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander mysteries. It is the longest and most complex novel in the series, combining two genres, detective and spy fiction. Its complexity also springs from an unusually dense use of flashbacks that lead the reader through the Cold War, the past lives of the two central characters, Wallander and Håkon von Enke, to a metafictional reflection on Mankell’s career. To use a phrase from the Epilog [Epilogue], the novel is marked by “ett tilbakeblikkande perspektiv” [a retrospective perspective ] (547). Wallander thinks that in social terms such a perspective is caused by his generation’s “ovilja att bry sig om världen de levde i, de politiska omständigheterna som hele tiden skiftade” [unwillingness to trouble themselves about the world they lived in, the political circumstances that shifted all the time] (547), but he is forced to enter the past to make sense of the present; for Wallander the past is his personal and professional life from his early days as a police officer, while for von Enke it is the Cold War.
The Troubled Man is rich in its metaphoric texture. What might be called the control-metaphor is that of surface and depth, most evident in submarine activity in the Baltic. The title of Part 2, “Händelser under ytan” [Events below the Surface] (149), refers to this activity, and its reflection in the way that the surface of events, people, conversations, documents, is invariably elusive. Wallander remembers advice from his mentor Rydberg: “Ytor är någonting man nästan alltid halkar på” [Surfaces almost always cause you to stumble] (102; emphasis in the original). The most obvious surface-depth phenomena are vertical: the surface and depth of water. They can, however, be horizontal, and psychological. One of Mankell’s epigraphs looks forward to a frequent use of the word “skugga” [shadow]. A character can be shadowed by another person, by the past, or, in Wallander’s case, by attacks of amnesia that he calls “en inre fallande skugga” [an inner shadow] (53). The first epigraph reads: “En människa lämnar alltid spår, Ingen människa är heller utan sin skugga” [A person always leaves a trail. Nor is anyone without their shadow] (5). When Wallander is close to discovering the truth about von Enke, he has a similar realization: “Bakom varje person stod alltid någon annan” [Behind every person someone else was always standing] (515; emphasis in the original). This echoes a remark by Baiba Liepa about Latvia: “Bakom varje lett stod en ryss, brukade vi säga. Men bakom varje russ stod någon annan” [Behind every Latvian a Russian was standing, we used to say. But behind every Russian someone else was standing] (360–61).

The Cold War 1: Events below the Surface

The novel’s events below the surface are at first literal: submarine activity off Sweden’s coast. In 1981 “hade en sovjetisk ubåt gått på grund” [a Soviet submarine had run aground] (13) not only in Swedish territorial water but close to the world’s most sophisticated system of military defence. The captain of submarine U 137 claimed that he had gone off course because of a faulty gyrocompass. Swedish authorities thought he had been drunk (13). The incident caused considerable embarrassment to the Soviet Union, and less than a decade before the fall of the Soviet Union may have been a sign that, in the words of von Enke’s friend Sten Nordlander: “trollen kom ut i solen och sprack” [the troll came out into the sun and burst] (252).
Wallander sees von Enke, his daughter Linda’s father-in-law, twice before von Enke disappears. The first time is at a dinner party given by Linda and Hans, her husband and von Enke’s son (37). The second is at von Enke’s birthday party held at a rented facility in the Stockholm suburb of Djursholm (59). During the party Wallander talks with his host in a glassed-in-terrace. Wallander notices that the older man is not only “orolig” [troubled] but “rädd” [afraid] (61–62) after glimpsing a man standing “utanför staketet alldeles under en gatlykta” [outside the fence directly below a streetlamp] (61).
After this incident von Enke takes the detective into a small windowless room, ostensibly to drink cognac, but really to share an anecdote about a second submarine. By October 1983 von Enke had been entrusted with the control of Sweden’s naval defence system (66). Suddenly a message came to him on the first of October that one or more foreign submarines had been detected in Hårsfjärden “i närheten av våra hemligaste militära anläggningar” [near our most secret military installations] (66). One submarine had been cornered and von Enke had received permission to bring it to the surface with warning depth charges (67). Five minutes before zero hour, however, he received a telephoned order from the Ministry of Defence not to drop depth charges and thus to allow the submarine to escape (69). Wallander asks him if he found any explanation for this counter command, but von Enke drops the story then and there and they return to the party (71). Three months later von Enke disappears (73). Then his wife Louise also vanishes only to be found dead (262).
There are two more phenomena below the surface of water that Wallander will discover. The first is a mysterious cylinder that a fisherman had caught in his net (212–13). Wallander learns from Sten Nordlander that the cylinder is a listening device attached by the Americans to a cable laid by the Russians on the bottom of the Baltic (254–55). The second is a curious toy owned by George Talboth, a former but probably still active CIA agent and a friend of von Enke. He lives in Berlin, and Wallander drives there to meet him. Talboth has a large aquarium that almost fills a room:
Men det som förbluffade Wallander mest var att det på botten av akvariet fanns stillrikt konstruerad tunnlar där elektriska tåg rusade fram i slutna banor. Tunnlarna var helt genomskinliga, som glas bakom glas. Där släpptes inte in en droppe vatten. Tågen rusade runt utan att fiskarna tycktes vara medvetna om denna järnvägslinje på deres konstgjorda havsbotten. (484)
[But what surprised Wallander most was that on the bottom of the aquarium there were skilfully constructed tunnels where electric trains rushed round on covered tracks. The tunnels were completely transparent, like glass behind glass. Not a drop of water was able to seep through. The trains rushed round without the fishes seeming to be aware of these railway tracks on their artificial seafloor.]
Wallander notices two aspects of Talboth’s underwater trains: “att de inte möttes exakt på samma ställe. Det fanns en förskjutning som til en början knappt var märkbar. Han såg också att tågen på en viss sträcka framfördes på samma spår” [that they did not pass each at exactly the same spot. There was a displacement that was at first sight barely distinguishable. He also saw that on one stretch the trains used the same track] (485). When he remarks on this Talboth replies “Du ser bra” [You’ve a keen eye] (485). Is this simply a compliment, or is he warning Wallander not to look too closely at what von Enke’s disappearance and Louise’s death may conceal? As we shall see, Wallander will find a meaning in Talboth’s underwater trains.

The Cold War 2: Wennerström

On a significant number of occasions in The Troubled Man the name Wennerström occurs (11, 95, 132, 185, 224, 278, 346, 453, 514, 516, 524). Colonel Stig Wennerström was an officer in the Swedish Air Force (Whiteside 1). He was also the most notorious spy in Swedish history. In his study of Wennerström, An Agent in Place (1966), Thomas Whiteside traces the colonel’s espionage activity on behalf of the Soviet Union that ended with his arrest and imprisonment in 1963. Wennerström’s prosecutor concluded that “his treason is the most serious one inflicted on our country in history” (102). In the novel Wennerström is von Enke’s darkest shadow.
Like von Enke, Wennerström was upper-middle class and wealthy. Mankell adds to the sense of the spy as von Enke’s shadow by placing the latter’s birthday celebrations in Djursholm, “den förmögna förorten til Stockholm” [the well-to-do suburb of Stockholm] (59) where Wennerström lived his privileged life from 1957 to 1963. As “an agent ‘in place’—that is, a qualified and cleared insider” (Whiteside 44), Wennerström smuggled quantities of secret information to his Soviet minder on microfilm. The most telling evidence of Wennerström as von Enke’s shadow comes from the fact that both are exposed by someone they would regard, in a class-conscious society, as their social inferior: in Wennerström’s case a maid; in von Enke’s a former waitress.
Säpo, the Swedish Security Police, had been suspicious of Wennerström for some time before his arrest. Whiteside argues that there was, however, “a vast reluctance to believe that a senior Swedish officer who was a member of a respectable family and a veteran diplomat could be engaged in espionage activities” (88). Despite this reluctance Säpo put a wiretap on Wennerström’s phone, to be rewarded when his youngest daughter told her friends that her father owned “the world’s strangest radio,” which she was forbidden to listen to because he had to “pick up Russia or wherever it was” (90). Then Mrs. Carin Rosén, the family’s part-time maid, began to have her own suspicions that led her to discover packages of microfilm hidden in a flower vase (97). By this time she had contacts in Swedish Security, who asked her to bring them two of the packages in her handbag (97). The film rolls placed in Louise’s purse (273) are, I believe, an allusion to this. The next day Wennerström was arrested on his way to the Foreign Office and “reacted with perfect outward calm” (97). As I have suggested, the Wennerström story will shadow von Enke to the very end.

The Investigation: Hunting Shadows

As Wallander’s investigation into von Enke’s disappearance and the death of Louise takes him into the past, he is also forced to look below and beyond the surface of everything and everyone he finds. When, for example, he examines von Enke’s study, he instinctively lifts up “skrivunderlägget som fanns på bordet” [the blotting pad that was on the desk] (90) but sees nothing there. This was something he had learned from Rydberg who once remarked that “även en tom yta var ett vigtigt spår” [even an empty surface was an important clue] (91). Taking a second look at the document cabinet Wallander is reminded of Rydberg’s advice: “Att se utan att se. Det var det första Rydberg hade varnat honom för, att inte upptäcka vad det var man verkligen såg” [To see without seeing. That was the first thing Rydberg had warned him against, the failure to discover what it was one really saw”] (96; emphasis in the original). When Wallander reaches for the top of the cabinet to find an article from The American Ministry of Defence, he asks himself: “Hvarför hade den legat ovenpå dokumentskapet” [why had it been lying on top of the document cabinet?] (98; emphasis in the original).
When Wallander learns that Hans von Enke has a sister Signe, who is unknown to Hans and Linda, he visits her in a care home. She is blind and almost completely paralyzed since birth. Wallander sits in her room and looks at the children’s books on the shelves. He finds a thick notebook hidden behind the books (174). He will learn that a man falsely claiming to be Signe’s uncle has visited her (239)—obviously in search of the notebook. When Wallander begins to read it, he finds it hard to decode but realizes that he must look “efter det andra innehållet, den osynliga skriften mellan raderna” [for the other content, the invisible writing between the lines] (176; emphasis in the original). After learning more about the notebook’s meaning from Nordlander, Wallander will suspect that von Enke was on the trail of a mole high up in Sweden’s Ministry of Defence. “Mannen utenför staketet, tänkte Wallander. Var det någon som inte tyckte att Håkon von Enke letade after en spion” [The man outside the fence, Wallander thought. Was it someone who didn’t want von Enke to be searching for a spy?] (192).
Much of the notebook is devoted to submarines. Von Enke was obsessed with the Hårsfjärden crisis. Nordlander connects this obsession with a late Cold War rumour “om en spion som var till och med bättre placerad än Wennerström” [about a spy who was even better placed than Wennerström] (185). Wallander notices something about von Enke’s writing:“Ofta hade von Enke tryckte pennspetarna så hårt mot pappret att det hade gått hål” [von Enke had often pressed so hard with his pens on the paper that they had made holes] (178). This tendency fades after some notes that to Wallander look like a haiku:
Händelser under ytan
Ingen märker
Vad som sker.
Händelser under ytan
Ubåten smyger
Ingen vill att den ska tvingas upp.
[Events below the surface
No one sees
What is happening.
Events below the surface
The submarine steals away
No one wants it forced to surface.]
Von Enke now asks a question: “För att hitta vem eller vilka som egentligen fattade de här beslutten måtte jag svara på frågan varför. Om den nu faktisk inte redan är besvarad” [To find out what person or persons made these decisions I must answer the question why. If it hasn’t been in fact already answered] (181; emphasis in the original). Having written this, the writer was no longer angry “utan alldeles lugn. Här finns inga hål i pappret” [but completely calm. There were no holes in the paper now] (181). This newfound balance suggests two things: that von Enke now knows that the Hårsfjärden submarine was American; and that he is secure in his resolution to become an agent for the USA.
In a book full of doubles and shadows it is not surprising to come across the term “dubbelgångere” [doppelgänger] (483). Wallander thinks that Talboth has his double in Humphrey Bogart (483). There is, however, a more positive instance of doubling in the text: that of Carin Rosén by Fanny Klarström. Wallander discovers Klarström in a newspaper article from 1987. The journalist had been investigating “en privat festlokal” [a private place for banquets] (328) frequented by right-wing naval officers (328). The banquets “omgavs tydligen av stort hemlighetsmakeri” [were evidently surrounded with an atmosphere of considerable secrecy] (328), and none of the officers contacted were willing to talk. Klarström, however, had been. She told the writer “om de otäcka, Palmehatiska konversationer som förts, om de arroganta officerarna” [about the ugly conversations that went on, full of hatred for Palme, about the arrogant officers] (328–29). She also said that one of the officers was Håkon von Enke (329).
Wallander’s meeting with Klarström is the turning point of his investigation. She had been an active communist, and the party had asked her to apply for a job as waitress at the banquets. “Det var inte betydelselöst att få veta vad konservativa marinofficerare talade om när dom var ensamma. Ingen räknade med att en servitris med svullna ben skulle lägga det som blev sagt på minnet” [It was not without value to learn what conservative naval officers talked about when they were alone. No one imagined that a waitress with swollen legs would remember what was being said] (340). When she tells Wallander that events from so long ago would be “helt utan interesse” [quite without interest] (340), Wallander replies: “Historien är inte bara något some ligger bakom oss, den är också nånting som följer oss” [History is not only something that lies behind us; it is also something that follows us] (340). She then remembers the officers’ differing reactions to the submarine incidents in 1981 and 1983 respectively (342). When the Russian submarine ran aground near Karlskrona the officers were delighted. “Det rådde ingen tvivl längre att det var Russarna som var inne och lekte kurragömma i svenska vatten. Men när det gäller Hårsfjärden skålade dom aldrig för någon rysk kapten. Förstår du hur jag menar?” [There was no longer any doubt that it was the Russians who were here to play hide-and-seek inside Swedish waters. But where Hårsfjärden is concerned, they didn’t raise a glass to any Russian captain. Do you follow me?] (342–43). Wallander makes the obvious inference that Russians were not involved in Hårsfjärden, though Klarström says there was no evidence for or against (343).
Klarström loses the thread of her memories for a while, but near the end of their meeting she comes up with a surprising incident involving von Enke. The banquet had reached the cognac stage, and the officers were talking about spies, notably Wennerström, who an admiral suggested “borde strypas långsamt med en balalajkasträng” [should be strangled slowly with a balalaika string] (346). It is at this moment that von Enke makes his move: “Han ställde frågan varför ingen bekymrade sig för att eventuella spioner för USA också kunde vara verksamma i Sverige. Han fick ett våldsamt mothugg” [He posed the question why no one was concerned that possible spies for the USA could also be operating in Sweden. He received a violent response] (346). Von Enke walked out of the banquet. He had made himself more than unpopular among his fellow officers, and Wallander will discover why. Near the end of the novel he tells von Enke: “Du gav dig en perfekt sköld när du gjorde dig illa omtyckt inom marinen” [You gave yourself a perfect shield when you made yourself badly thought of in the navy] (534).
The final section of The Troubled Man is called “Skenbilden” (414). Prisma’s Swedish-English Dictionary glosses “skenbild” as “phantom” or “distorted picture” (472). Throughout the novel Wallander has been pursuing phantoms, and von Enke has done his best to distort the truth. Wallander comes to realize that “ingenting år vad det utger sig för att vara” [nothing is what it pretends to be] (442), and that “man kan säga att jag höll fram ett spegel och betraktade alla händelser i ett omvänt perspektiv” [one can say that I held up a mirror and saw everything in a reversed perspective] (529). Now he understands how Talboth’s underwater train system provides a coded metaphor for the Cold War:
Om tågen gick eller inte kunde han inte höra. De levde att ljudlöst liv i sina välisolerade tunnlar. Som mullvader, tänkte han. Men också som de människor som nästlat in i de korridorer där hemliga beslut fattas, beslut som de stjäl och för vidare till den sida som skulla hållas okunnig. (497)
[He couldn’t hear if the trains were running or not. They lived a silent life in their well-isolated tunnels. Like moles, he thought. But also like people who crept into the corridors where secret decisions were made, decisions that they stole and passed on to the side that should be kept in the dark.]
Eskil Lundberg, the fisherman whose father found the cylinder, shows Wallander a small island with a cabin that he describes as “ett bra gömställe för den som vill lämna jordens yta för ett tag” [a fine hiding place for someone who wants to leave the earth’s surface for a while] (215). Wallander makes two visits to this island where indeed von Enke is in hiding. The detective’s conversations with von Enke are mirror images of each other. In the first, von Enke holds up a mirror image of the truth. He tells Wallander that he strongly suspected that Louise had been a Soviet agent (437). Wallander’s second visit takes place after he has met Talboth in Berlin. On that occasion Talboth makes a mistake. He refers to Wallander’s dog, but Wallander has never mentioned Jussi to the American (498). This must mean that Talboth has been in touch with von Enke. Wallander’s decisive recognition comes when he remembers a conversation with his father that had taken place in the early 1960s (511). Wallander had come home after listening to a public speech by Prime Minister Tage Erlander. He told his father that Erlander said “att Russland är vår fiende” [that Russia is our enemy] (512). His father’s reply surprised him: “Det är inte helt sant. Det kanske inte skulla skada att våra politiska ledare funderade en smula over vilken roll Amerika spelar idag” [That’s not quite true. Perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad thing if our political leaders took some thought about the role America plays today] (512). The conversation ended when the young man misremembered the prime minister’s name and was corrected by his father: “Erlander. Lär dig vad folk heter” [Erlander. Learn what people are called] (513; emphasis in the original). As he remembers this last comment, Wallander comes to a full understanding of von Enke: “Och précis då, som om minnet hade slagt upp en port för honom, började Wallander ana at than hade följt en helt felaktig väg. Han hade blivit lurad och han hade låtit sig luras” [And at that very moment, as if the memory had opened a door for him, Wallander began to see that he had followed a completely false trail. He had been deceived, and he had let himself be deceived] (513).
Wallander now takes Sten Nordlander to the island. He interrogates von Enke in the cabin with Nordlander listening outside. Von Enke is evasive at first but eventually admits to spying for the USA (535). Nordlander is devastated: “Det betyder at han lurade mig i hele mitt liv” [That means he deceived me all my life] (538). Von Enke tries to shoot himself but only causes extensive bleeding (536–37). Unable to contact emergency services with his cellphone, Wallander leaves Nordlander in the cabin; he is about to leave the island in his hired boat when he hears a shot and a second one shortly after. Nordlander has killed von Enke then turned the gun on himself.
Is Sten Nordlander’s reaction close to melodrama? There is, I think, a real-life analogy that puts his emotions into perspective: the case of the British spy Kim Philby and his friend Nicholas Elliott. Philby was the most notorious traitor in modern British history. As a Soviet agent from the early 1930s to his defection in 1963 (MacIntyre 2014, 273), Philby betrayed his country, his colleagues in intelligence, his three wives, his sons, and his friends. His activity often led to human tragedy, most notably in an attempt by the West to infiltrate Albanian agents behind the iron curtain. Philby betrayed the agents to Albanian communists who set up ambushes. MacIntyre describes the result: “The precise death toll will never be known: somewhere between one hundred and two hundred Albanian guerrillas perished; if their families and other reprisal victims are taken into account, the figure rises into the thousands” (140).
Philby’s treachery also had a devastating emotional effect on those he had known. In the words of MacIntyre’s title, Philby was “a spy among friends.” As MacIntyre says of Philby’s closest friend Nicholas Elliott: “from the moment he finally understood and accepted Philby’s treachery Elliott’s world was changed utterly: inside he was crushed, humiliated, enraged, and saddened” (250). Finally in this Elliott-Nordlander connection, there is a moment in a tape-recorded (256–57) interrogation of Philby by Elliott himself when Elliott is heard to explode:
You took me in for years. Now I’ll get the truth out of you even if I have to drag it out. You had to choose between Marxism and your family, and you chose Marxism. I once looked up to you, Kim. My God, how I despise you now. I hope you’ve enough decency left to understand why. (259)
With these words in mind, we can see how Mankell has created a realistic figure in Nordlander, not a theatrical one.

A Different Kind of Forgetfulness

In his book The Secret Life of Wallander (2010) Stafford Hildred records Henning Mankell’s “final verdict” (249) on his detective:
“Ten years ago I thought I had finished with Wallander,” he said. “But after about four or five years I thought maybe there was some story missing about himself.” Mankell realized that the stories had always been about the detective’s work more than the man himself, and he resolved to reverse this in the character’s final outing. “It is about Kurt Wallander and what he has learned about life which is not as much as he thought.” (259–60)
This biographical impulse is felt in the title itself, Den orolige mannen [The Troubled Man] (3). Wallander feels that his investigation “börjar med den orolige mannen” [begins with the troubled man] (319), in other words, von Enke. However, as the narrative progresses, the reader will realize that Wallander too is a troubled man. In the first chapter we learn that Wallander fulfills two of his dreams: he acquires a house in the country, called “Svarthöjden” [Black Hill] (20) and a black Labrador named Jussi (22). After a house-warming party he takes Jussi for a walk (22). The dog runs off and then “Jussi kom tilbaka som en ljudlös skugga ur mörkret” [Jussi came back like a silent shadow out of the darkness] (23). In a book haunted by shadows, Jussi’s silent shadow is an omen of what Wallander will call “en inre fallande skugga” [an inner shadow] (13) that the reader will recognize and the narrator will identify as Alzheimer’s (555).
Moments of Wallander’s forgetfulness occur throughout the novel. Towards the end of Chapter 17 he buys a plate of mashed potatoes from a kiosk. The food slides off his plate, and he is suddenly uncertain whether he drove to the kiosk or walked there from the police station (238). Again, in Chapter 22, after dropping off a girl he has given a ride, he feels that “det var alldeles tomt i hans huvud” [his head was completely empty] (293). Quite early in the novel he cleans his service revolver but neglects to lock it up. He eats in a restaurant, gets drunk, and takes a taxi home (43–44). The next morning he is summoned to Martinssom’s office where he learns that he took his gun to the restaurant and left it on a seat; it was found by a waiter who brought it to the station (46). He is ashamed of his drunkenness but senses “en annan sorts glömska som han inte kände. En mörker där han inte formåde tände några lampor” [a different kind of forgetfulness, that he did not recognize. A darkness where he couldn’t light any lamps] (48). After he has come close to burning his house down by forgetting to switch off a ring on his stove, he tells Linda: “Ibland kan hela tidsblock bara försvinna. Som is som smälter” [Sometimes whole blocks of time can vanish. Like melting ice] (369). At the very end of the novel there is a terrible moment when Wallander fails to recognize his own daughter (555). The narrator tells us: “Skuggan hade djupnat. Och långsamt kom Kurt Wallander nu att försvinna in i ett mörker som några år senare definitivt skickade ut honom i det tomma universum son heter Alzheimer’s” [The shadow had deepened. And slowly Kurt Wallander began to vanish into a darkness that some years later definitely sent him into the empty universe that is called Alzheimer’s] (555). We are reminded of the second epigraph: “Man glömmer det man vil minnas och minns det man helst vil glömma” [One forgets what one wants to remember and remembers what one would rather forget] (5). In a metafictional echo late in the novel, Wallander seems to “recall” the epigraph: “Han tänkte att han mindes det han ville glömma och glömde det than borde komma ihåg” [He thought that he remembered what he wanted to forget and forgot what he should remember] (482).

Henning Mankell’s Retrospect

In another indirect form of metafiction Mankell guides the reader through earlier novels by means of Wallander’s personal and professional memories. This pattern occurs in previous Kurt Wallander novels, most notably Brandvägg (2005) [Firewall]. In The Troubled Man, however, there is not only a more marked presence of the past, but a tighter interweaving of the personal and professional as Wallander’s past insists on rising to the surface. His first personal memory is triggered by a meeting with Linda on Mossby Strand (30) where she had told him that she was going into the police, and he had given her his blessing. This takes place at the very end of Brandvägg (2005, 452–53) [Firewall]; the beach also brings back a professional memory (30): of a rubber dinghy that had been washed ashore with the bodies of two dead Latvians, the beginning of Hundarna i Riga (2005, 16–17) [The Dogs of Riga]. He will remember both these personal and professional events again in Chapter 21 (283). Seven months later the police in Ystad and Göteborg have been successful in their case against crimes committed by immigrants from Poland and the former Jugoslavia (39). Wallander remembers an assault and murder in Lenarp, also involving immigrants (Mördare utan ansikte 2006, 5-10) [Faceless Killers]. Shortly after von Enke’s disappearance, Wallander is walking back from a theatre when he is attacked by two boys, one carrying a knife (80–81). He manages to fight back and scare them off, but the knife brings back to his mind a stabbing he had only just survived early in his career (“Hugget” 1999, 148) [The Stabbing ]. The golden fields of “raps” [canola flower] surrounding his new house force him to face another traumatic memory: the self-destruction by fire of a young girl in another field of canola flower (Villospår 2005, 34) [Sidetracked]. In Chapter 15 of The Troubled Man Wallander passes a café (206) where he had once stayed the night, at the invitation of the attractive and kindly woman who owned it (Steget efter 2005, 272-74) [One Step Behind]. He was returning from Barnsö, an island where a female student had been killed (Steget efter 2005, 266–67) [One Step Behind], but this time he only dwells on the pleasant memory of the café.
In Chapter 18 a letter arrives from Robert Åkerblom, reminding Wallander how he had helped Åkerblom “under den svåraste tiden av vårt liv” [during the hardest time of my life] (243). Åkerblom’s wife had been murdered, the tragically random victim of a plot to assassinate Nelson Mandela (Den vita lejoninnan 2005, 23) [The White Lioness]. Wallander feels that he needed this reminder “att det vi gör trots allt har en avgjörande betydelse för många människor” [that what we do has a real meaning for many people in spite of everything] (244).
In Hundarna I Riga (2005) [The Dogs of Riga], Wallander begins a love affair in Riga with Baiba Liepa, the widow of a murdered Latvian officer, Major Karlis Liepa. Baiba Liepa visits Wallander in Chapter 26 of The Troubled Man (349–61). She has come to tell him that she is dying of cancer (352). She appears resigned: “Jag skålar för att jag trots allt fick uppleva det här sälsamma äventyret av att födas, leva och en dag försvinna ut i mörkret igen” [I raise a glass because in spite of everything I have lived this strange adventure of being born, living, and one day vanishing out into the dark again] (358). For Wallander her visit is more bitter than sweet, though it does remind him that he once experienced a true and intense love. Baiba dies when her car crashes against a wall (378–79). This is another doubling: a suicide disguised as an accident, that mirrors Louise’s murder: “Ett självmord bara på ytan” [A suicide only on the surface] (305).
During another walk with Jussi, Wallander remembers a game he played with Linda when she was a child: trying to think a new thought every fiftieth step (363). The game had once helped him to solve the murders that take place in Steget efter (2005) [One Step Behind]: “Då hade den gamle leken kommit till nytta igen; han hade gått sig till klarhet under olika faser av utredningen” [Then the old game had become useful again; he had walked himself towards clarity during different phases of the investigation] (364; emphasis in the original). The number of references to earlier Kurt Wallander novels in The Troubled Man underlines a sense that this is a valedictory novel.
The Troubled Man is a rewarding finale to the Kurt Wallander series. It is a remarkably successful fusion of two popular genres—crime and espionage fiction—with a novelistic attention to social, psychological, and metaphoric detail. Henrik Ibsen’s twelve nutidsdramaer (1968) [Contemporary Plays] are widely thought of as the cornerstone of modern drama. Mankell’s twelve Wallander novels stand in much the same relation to twenty-first-century crime fiction, in Sweden certainly, and perhaps in the world.


  1. All translations from Den orolige mannen (2009) are my own.
  2. Other Scandinavian spies were arrested during the Cold War. The best known after Wennerström are mentioned in the novel: Arne Treholt in Norway (185) and Stig Bergling in Sweden (201, 383). MacIntyre (2018) has information on both of these men, especially Treholt.
  3. Silently corrected from the printing error “måste” (181).
  4. In the English translation of Pyramiden, a collection of five stories about Wallander’s early career, the title of the first story, “Hugget,” is changed to: “Wallander’s First Case” (2009, 5-104). See The Pyramid: The First Wallander Cases (2009, 3–104).


  • Hildred, Stafford. 2010. The Secret Life of Wallander: An Unoffical Guide to the Swedish Detective Taking the Literary World by Storm. London: John Blake.
  • Ibsen, Henrik. 1968. Nutidsdramaer. Oslo: Gyldendal norsk forlag.
  • MacIntyre, Ben. 2014. A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal. Toronto: MacLelland and Stewart.
  • ⸻. 2018. The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War. Toronto: Penguin Random House Canada Limited.
  • Mankell, Henning. 1999. “Hugget.” In Pyramiden (13–122). Oslo: Leopard förlag.
  • ⸻. 2005. Brandvägg. Oslo: Ordfront förlag.
  • ⸻. 2005. Hundarna i Riga. Oslo: Ordfront förlag.
  • ⸻. 2005. Steget efter. Oslo: Ordfront förlag.
  • ⸻. 2005. Villospår. Oslo: Ordfront förlag.
  • ⸻. 2005. Den vita lejonninan. Oslo: Ordfront förlag.
  • ⸻. 2006. Mördare utan ansikte. Oslo: Leopard förlag.
  • ⸻. 2006. Pyramiden. Oslo: Leopard förlag.
  • ⸻. 2009. Den orolige mannen. Oslo: Leopard förlag.
  • ⸻. 2009. The Pyramid: The First Wallander Cases. Translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segeberg and Laurie Thompson. Oslo: Leopard förlag.
  • Prisma’s Swedish–English Dictionary. 1997. 3rd ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Whiteside, Thomas. 1966. An Agent in Place: The Wennerström Affair. New York: Ballantine Books.