The Return of the Dancing Master features a new Henning Mankell detective named Stefan Lindman. Coincidentally, perhaps, a character named Stefan Lindman is Linda Wallander’s odd, unconventional boyfriend in the first BBC4 TV series. He was killed off at the end of the first series. This series stars Krister Henriksson, rather than the Swedish Wallander starring Rolf Larsgaard or the British version starring Kenneth Brannagh .
Published in 2000, it was translated into English in 2003 by Laurie Thompson, and won the 2005 Gumshoe Award for Best European Crime Novel.
While Stefan Lindman, a young, 37-year-old policeman, is on extended sick leave due to cancer of the tongue, he hears about the murder of Herbert Molin, his former colleague, and decides to investigate it himself. Lindman’s inquiry becomes increasingly complex and dangerous as he uncovers the links between Herbert Molin’s death and a global web of neo-Nazi activities.
Herbert Molin, a retired police officer, known to be a recluse, lives alone in a remote cottage. Two things have come to occupy his attention: his enthusiasm for the tango and an mania about “demons” he believes are pursuing him. Early one morning shots shatter Molin’s window- by the time his body is found it is almost unrecognizable. He has been dumped near his house. He’s been tortured; his back has been whipped, his feet flayed. The wounds are full of grit and dirt. There is only one clue – bloody footprints in the pattern of the tango on the living-room floor.
Like all Mankell’s thrillers, the northern European landscape and climate are characters in the novel. Most days, it drizzles, and when it’s not drizzling, it’s lightly snowing. When it’s not lightly snowing, it’s snowing for Sweden.
The central policeman, this time, Lindman, is the focus for Mankell as much as the crime itself. Struggling to face up to his own mortality following his cancer diagnosis, he is curiously freed up to investigate another person’s death. While being driven to solve a murder, he often reflects that it may be his last. The crime forces him to think about his own beliefs and values.
Giuseppe Larson joins Lindman in the investigation by a man, a infrequency character in Mankell novels, a laughing policeman. Larson is a relaxed, happily married local policeman who is more than willing to admit: “I have absolutely no idea what is going on.”
It indeed is a puzzling, intricate case with no witnesses and no obvious motives. Lindman becomes more and more impulsive as he uncovers the links between Molin’s death, World War II, and an underground neo-Nazi network that runs much further and deeper than he had ever imagined. I was unaware of Sweden’s role in World War II; officially, the country was neutral, but it gained monetarily from both sides and Swedes were split in their sentiments toward the Allies and the Axis countries.
Sweden’s part in WWII was very complex and byzantine. During the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Sweden allowed the Wehrmacht to use Swedish railways to transport a German infantry divisions along with their armaments from Norway to Finland. German soldiers traveling on leave between Norway and Germany were allowed passage through Sweden. Sweden sold iron ore to Germany throughout the war. At the same time, Sweden shared military intelligence with the Allies and helped to train soldiers made up of refugees from Denmark and Norway, to be used in the liberation of their home countries. It also allowed the Allies to use Swedish airbases between 1944 and 1945.
In addition, Sweden became a refuge for anti-fascist and Jewish refugees from all over the Scandinavian countries. In 1943, following an order to deport all of Denmark’s Jewish population to concentration camps, nearly all of Denmark’s 8,000 Jews were brought to safety in Sweden. Sweden also became a refuge for Norwegian Jews.
Molin’s murder proves to be as tangled and intricate. As Lindman’s investigation progresses, he realizes he never knew the real Molin. He learns that Molin was a lifelong Nazi sympathizer. The plot involves the secret world of Nazis, both past and present. The unrelenting Lindman turns out to be an clever and resourceful investigator, though those seeking action rather than ratiocination and psychological introspection will be disappointed. Hard-boiled detection is not Mankell’s style. Secrets are slowly and logically unraveled, and thoughtful readers with a taste for the unusual will find Lindman, and the mystery he solves, provocative.
I wish that I could read Swedish. I would like to know what Mankell’s prose technique is actually. In English, the prose can be cold and spare. On my “bucket” list, I will have to include research of the different translators of all the Mankell books I have read to compare their approaches.