Before the Frost by Henning MankellLike many, I love a good mystery. More than a good mystery, I love a well-written detective, one with tragic flaws, a normal everyday sort of guy who just happens to also work at solving crimes. Such is Kurt Wallander, Mankell's hero, of sorts, a much-flawed gumshoe who does his think in the south of Sweden. In this book, we are introduced to his daughter, Linda, who recently has graduated from police training and comes to live, as temporarily as possible, with her father before she becomes a beat cop in Ystad. She's suffered her own tragedies in life, and in Linda, Mankell introduces his readers to a new hero.
She has a week or so before she officially begins work, so in the meantime she spends time with her childhood friends, Anna and Zeba. Not much time passes (as often happens in the genre) before Linda finds herself in the middle of a bookload of trouble, and it isn't up to her father, the great solver of crimes to get her through to the final pages. She learns from him what she can, watching him conduct an interview, listening to him listening to his colleagues, and managing meetings during which the crew goes over details of the crime. When I first started reading Mankell, I was thrown off by how often these Swedish detectives met to go over the same old clues, ocassionally adding new ones, trying to decipher what was what. And how long the meetings! But now these meetings are among my favorite parts of Mankell's writing. As a matter of fact, in Before the Frost, many of these meetings are elliptical, that is, we see the group come together, sit around the table, and within a few sentences, Mankell announces it's now three hours later, and a great bit of information has been dealt with.
Anyway, back to the book: the prologue introduces us to Erik Westin, the sole survivor of the Jim Jones massacre, who, for all intents and purposes, is dead to the world, assumed dead at the mass suicide/murder site. For the next 20 years or so, Westin, disillusioned by Jones's ego, works out the kinks and eventually builds his own sect. He also searches for and finds his long lost daughter Anna, the person he feels God means to take over his church and vision. What sets the story in motion, aside from the introduction of Westin as cult leader, is a very horrific and violent murder scene: a woman's remains are located in an out of the way hut in the woods, her head and hands severed from her body, her hands folded as though in prayer, and the rest of her nowhere to be found. Then Anna goes missing. Then she turns up again, then she goes missing, and turns up again, but this time to announce that Zeba is also missing. A couple more mysterious murders take place, the sect meets in other out of the way places, and an assault on religious institutions around Sweden is planned. The assaults will take place just before, but are unrelated to our own September 11, 2001 tragedies. Interestingly, Westin says at one point that his bombings will most likely be blamed on Muslim extremists, his number one enemy.
Christian though they claim to be, don't be fooled. Westin's is nothing more than another sect, extremists in their own right, and just as bent in their way of thinking and living. Fundamentalists they are not. An awesome book, and great author!
(Other Swedish Recommendations: The Emigrants by Vilhelm Moberg)