The Swedish writer Henning Mankell's new novel, The Troubled Man, is another installment of his long-running series about Kurt Wallander, a police detective who works in the southernmost part of Sweden. It's been about 10 years since the last Wallander novel, and this one arrives with a sad announcement — it is likely to be the last.
Mankell is one of Sweden's most popular writers, and his moody police detective is another of Sweden's most popular exports.
As to why this will be the end of the series, Mankell tells Morning Edition guest host Linda Wertheimer, "Maybe I'm a little old-fashioned. In the times where everyone is talking about how everything is a process, I am keen on dots ... you call them a period. I believe in periods. I really thought that now is the ending, to make the final period in the stories of Wallander."
The book is about a Cold War incident involving Sweden and the Soviet Union, and one of the characters is a retired submariner. Mankell describes the real-life inspiration for the story:
"During my lifetime, one of the worst political scandals in Sweden was absolutely what happened surrounding the submarines in Swedish waters in 1982, where there were supposed to be Russian submarines close to Stockholm, and the Swedish army never got one up. And what we know today is that there were no Russian submarines; if there were [any], they were probably American submarines. This is still one of the worst scandals, politically, we have seen."
In the book, the Swedish submariner who is also the father-in-law of Wallander's daughter goes missing, and then his wife goes missing.
"That is the sort of plot that starts everything in this book," Mankell says. "And then I tried to tell the story about all the hypocrisy and all the lying concerning the Swedish neutrality during the 1950s and '60s and even up to today. That is the basic story of this book."
Complicating that basic story is Wallander's age; as the detective is trying to solve the crime, his health is slowly worsening.
"Well, I believe that life is very complicated," Mankell says. "And the only way you can show life in a truthful way is to show how complicated it is, as an individual, but also your relation between a complicated life and the complications you have inside you. So in that sense, I'm happy that I dared to write this rather complicated novel, as you say."
Mankell has said many times that he is nothing like Kurt Wallander, and he denies having similarly bleak visions of life as compared to those of his protagonist.
"I don't believe that I'm scared of dying," he says. "What really scares me, if one day, physically fit, I am told by my wife, 'Henning, you are losing your head, you don't know what you're saying, you're forgetting everything.' That is a sort of fear that many people have, and I wanted to talk a little about that fear. We have to accept that this is a real, real scary thing that can happen when you get old."
And as for whether there may be any hope for a new Wallander book in the future, Mankell has this to say to his fans: "At least I did not make the same mistake as Conan Doyle, who killed off Sherlock Holmes and had to bring him back again. [Wallander's] daughter is also a police officer so, who knows? That's the best answer I can give you."