Written by Henning Mankell — One Step Behind is not Mankell’s most famous nor most commercially successful Wallander novel. For our money, though, it represents both Mankell and Kurt Wallander at their absolute peak. What it lacks in pace and popular verve, it more than makes up for through Mankell’s painstaking attention to detail. And for this Mankell fans hold a particular affection for it.
Mankell’s seventh Wallander opens with a chilling description of the hunt and abrupt execution of three innocent people in a nature reserve by a stalking murderer. It closes with a reflection, by Wallander, on nature’s more bestial qualities and those it shares with man. In between, Wallander pieces together three seemingly unrelated crimes in a pounding turn of events that never leaves us pause for breath.
Ignoring the recommendations of his doctor on account of one of the victims being a friend and colleague discovered dead by the detective at his flat, Wallander becomes obsessed with the cases, to the detriment of his health and mental well-being. We see him at his infatuated best – picking through tiny details and slowly forming a complete picture. His long-suffering team bares the brunt of this exhaustion and they, like the reader, are regularly horrified and startled throughout.
Mankell’s characters in One Step Behind, both old and new, are some of the most believable and enjoyable he has created. It is also his best example of incorporating underlying subplots, which comment on the state of Swedish society and its darker, unseen, underbelly. But these commentaries never interrupt what is a typical firecraker of a plot, which draws the reader in with some of Mankell’s finest and most unexpected twists.
Like Wallander himself, suffering from the onset of diabetes, we’re left exhausted by the end, but hugely satisfied when the case is put to bed.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars