Wednesday, March 2, 2011


I've been trying to read “Faceless Killers” by Henning Mankell, one of the famous Stieg Larsson's not-so-famous influences.  

It started out great, much better than Stieg. Not so much exposition, which is Stieg's great downfall. So I thought, this guy Mankell knows how to write fiction. That was for the first 12 pages. In the beginning, “Faceless Killers” has a strong narrative voice, a well-developed sense of the inner lives of his characters, and a good story setup.

An old farmer wakes in the night because he doesn't hear the horse in the barn whinnying like it usually does.

OK. Dum-dee-dum-dum. Suspense.

Then it gets really boring. Who wants to live in this world of down-and-out farmers and isolated old people? The detective's wife has left him, and you can see why. He’s a downer.

After about 75 pages, I don’t want to spend any more time with him. His daughter tried to kill herself, and that’s another downer. Down-down-down, that’s all it is. And there are no real clues. I caught the hint about the horse having been fed and watered, early on, but I don’t know what it means, and I don’t care.

I’m quitting on Page 76; I don’t care what happens next. I don't care who did it, or why. I don't care about the dead farmer's secret life and his secret mistress, and his millions squirreled away.

Mankell has not made me care, and that is the writer's job.

As Mickey Spillane said, “No one ever read a novel to get to the middle.”

And as the famous writer Ken Follett said, there are three things a successful novel must have:
-- A main character you want to identify with—not some loser.
-- A setting, a place, that people want to visit—not some dump.
-- And a big dramatic question to keep the reader hooked all the way through.

This Henning Mankel novel has a loser in a dump and no dramatic question at all. I can't see why anyone would read the whole thing.

-- Roger

The Fifth Woman (A Kurt Wallander Mystery) 
© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

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