Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell

I really enjoy Henning Mankell novels and The Dogs of Riga was no exception.  I would argue that no one does cold desolate landscapes better than Mankell.  The Dogs of Riga is the second in the Kurt Wallander crime series.  Swedish detective Kurt Wallander is sent on a crime solving escapade after a life raft containing two well dressed bodies washes up on the shores of his hometown of Ystad Sweden.  The action moves from Sweden to the political and social upheaval of Riga in Latvia during the early 1990s.

I like crime novels that inform while entertaining.  The Dogs of Riga provides some interesting insights and perspective into the sequelae of the fall of the USSR for the Baltic states.  I also don't seem to be able to get enough of these frozen country crime novels.  I suspect that this is partly because being Australian, frozen landscapes seem wonderfully mysterious and exotic to me.  I also think that the freezing, minimal daylight atmosphere seems to lend itself really well to torment, conspiracy and murder themes.

Henning Mankell's crime novels have a literary feel to them.  The Dogs of Riga in particular reminds me of Peter Temple's Truth and The Broken Shore.  Like the Temple books, the pace of the action is more of a slow burn and the landscape plays a leading role in the story. 

I haven't read any of the other novels in the Kurt Wallender series, but look forward to doing so.  Like alot of these leading detective types Wallander is a loner, and a bit jaded, but I really liked him.  There seemed to be a sense of humour lurking around the edges, even in the most dire situations:

"He had landed in a country where it was just as cold inside as it was out, and he regretted not having packed a pair of long johns."  p. 98

The story is compelling because Detective Wallander is taken out of his usual crime solving jurisdiction in Sweden and thrown into the completely foreign, corrupt and fear driven social landscape of Latvia after the fall of the Soviet Union.  This makes for a different type of detective novel.  Wallander has to live by his wits in a country he does not understand and where he has no professional or personal support.

If you like crime fiction in frozen landscapes where the tension mounts slowly but inexorably, The Dogs of Riga is well worth a look.  I also enjoyed  The Return of the Dancing Master earlier this year by the same author.


  1. I'm planning on reading the Wallander books in order but so far have only gotten up to this one which I too enjoyed very much. I agree with you that the place is as much of a character as the people

  2. I think you have a good point: there is something about frozen landscapes that lend themselves to murder. Maybe it is the image of red blood on white snow or how I go nuts every time it gets cold or too snowy.

  3. Have you tried any of Kerry Greenwood's crime novels?

    I haven't read Mankell but I would really like you. I think next year I am going to read a lot more crime fiction than I usually would. There is great crime fiction out there!

  4. Hey Becky. I haven't read any of Kerry Greenwood's books yet. Enjoyed reading your Greenwood posts during the year and look forward to reading some of her books in the near future, I think I would like them.


Comments are very welcome.