Popular culture mostly passes me by. But the extraordinary publishing phenomenon of Scandinavian crime fiction has not. In our house it began when, quite by chance, we stumbled upon the BBC TV adaptation of Henning Mankell’s gloomy detective Kurt Wallander, starring Kenneth Branagh. We liked it so much we lapped up the Swedish films when they were shown on BBC4.
Since then Scandinavian crime novels have piled up at my bedside table, which is unusual as I don’t normally read novels. Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had me gripped, and I’ve just finished One Step Behind, book seven of Mankell’s Wallander series. Yesterday I began Jo Nesbø’s The Devil’s Star. (Yes I know I should begin with The Bat Man, but I have been lent The Devil’s Star.)
(above: Henning Mankell at St Mary Magdalene church, Woodstock, applauds the audience applauding him)
So when my mum rang me and said “Henning Mankell is coming to Woodstock” I couldn’t believe my ears. Woodstock? (It’s just 4 miles away). Wow! Immediately I got tickets from The Woodstock Bookshop who arranged the event.
And so this lunchtime, Woodstock’s St Mary Magdalene church was packed out with Mankell devotees, including me and Moth. The event was organised and for a BBC World Service Book Club programme. Speaking in English with an enchanting Swedish accent, Mankell read extracts from Faceless Killers and took questions from the audience.
Henning Mankell was every inch as thoughtful, warm, gently witty and right-on as I suspected he would be. His success as a writer is due to the realism of his characters and his interest in social justice. He doesn’t shy away from big, difficult subjects: racism, immigration, violence against women. Indeed he created Kurt Wallander specifically so he could write about The Really Things society faces today. Kurt is ‘the mirror’ who struggles with them both in his mind and in his work. And we struggle with him.
The author’s political integrity oozes out of his books as does his interest in the wider world. Despite his massive success, Mankell remains modest, quiet and he famously shuns public appearances. He is far more interested in fighting AIDS in Africa, working with theatre groups in Mozambique, and giving away his fortune to charity. What a dude.
Shakespeare is rightly famous for coining many new words. If this is the measure of a great author, then today in Woodstock in the space of an hour, Mr Mankell gave us ‘fictious’, ‘erotical’ and ‘passionated’. And everyone knew precisely what he meant. That’s perfect English isn’t it? Tack så mycket, Mr Mankell. You’re my new hero.