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Before the FrostReview - Before the Frost
A Kurt and Linda Wallander Novel
by Henning Mankell
Blackstone Audio, 2009
Review by Christian Perring
Nov 17th 2009 (Volume 13, Issue 47)

There is a sense of satisfaction in following a series of well written novels and seeing how the characters develop over time.  There are nine previous Kurt Wallander books, showing him from his first days as a detective to when he is at the height of his career and is starting to feel his age.  We have seen him go through many romances, get into trouble at work, and especially his changing relationship with his father, as the old man became more difficult and eccentric and finally died.  In this latest novel of the series put on unabridged audiobook, life is changing even more since he is getting close to retirement and his daughter Linda has decided to become a detective.  The novel is set in the summer after she has done her training and before she officially starts.  She has moved in with him, and they often fight, just like he did with his father. 

As with the other novels in the series, the mystery is mixed in with plenty of musing over life's troubles.  The narrator spends more time with Linda than with her father, and we learn about her feelings on growing up as her parents' marriage was failing, and her own feelings of desperation, which led her to two suicide attempts as a teenager.  She now feels confident about her choice to be in the police, but she can't wait to be living on her own and to be started in the job, even if it will start off doing menial duties like arresting unruly drunks.

The mystery of the novel starts off close to home, with Linda's friend Anna.  They had known each other since they were young girls, but had lost touch after leaving school.  Now they meet each other again and Anna has changed.  She says she saw her father in the street, although he left the family when she was a small child and did not keep on contact.  She is religious and judgmental too.  Then she disappears, and Linda gets worried when she finds that Anna is not at medical school as she claimed to be.  Linda tries to convince her father that it is serious, but he says Anna probably just decided to take a holiday without telling anyone.

However, Anna's disappearance becomes linked with darker mysteries.  There is a number of events in which animals are set alight and burn to death, and then a woman is brutally murdered, with only her head and hands remaining.  It turns out that Anna knew the woman.  There are indications that there are extremist religious connections to these strange acts of violence, and both Linda and Kurt follow their own investigations.  As the reader would expect, the truth is darker than they fear: it turns out that there is a religious group with a leader connected to the cult led by Jim Jones. 

The depiction of the people in the cult and their terrible crimes is not particularly convincing -- the strange beliefs of the groups are not well motivated, and there's no precedence for the violence of their non-political actions in real life, so it seems more like a horror story.  Far more interesting is the relationship between Linda and her friends, her relationship with her father, and her father's changing perspective on his job as he sees his daughter enter his own profession. 

Unlike the others in the series, the unabridged audiobook is performed by a woman, Cassandra Campbell, which highlights the shift from Kurt to Linda as main protagonist.  It's a strong reading that does the story justice.  The translation was originally published in 2005, and the latest novel in the series, The Troubled Man, was published this year in Swedish, and it due to be translated soon.  It is clear that Kurt is coming to the end of his career, and so fans of the series should enjoy this, one of his final cases. 

 

© 2009 Christian Perring         

           

Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.


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