Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Return of the Dancing Master: Review

Oh. My. The Return of the Dancing Master is another knock-out book by Henning Mankell. And it's going to be really hard to review it without giving too much away. There is so much I'd like to say about the story that would absolutely ruin it for anyone who might want to read it. You'll have to trust me, it's a terrific study of revenge and mortality. This one is a non-series book about the death of retired policeman Herbert Molin. Molin wasn't just killed, he was literally tortured to death. All indications would seem to point to a revenge killing--but revenge for what? Stefan Lindman is a young policeman who worked with Molin when he (Lindman) first joined the force. Not long after, Molin retired and his colleagues lost touch with him. They are shocked to find that he has moved away into a remote forested area--almost as if he were hiding. If he was, someone discovered his hiding place.

Lindman is on sick leave--he has just been diagnosed with cancer of the tongue and is struggling with his own mortality. When he hears of Molin's murder, he becomes interested--if only to distract himself from his own health and fears. As he delves into the case, helping the local police and sometimes crossing boundaries to dig up information, he discovers that the policeman who helped him form his best working habits had secrets that none of his former colleagues can believe. Lindman also finds himself facing secrets of his own past--discovering a side to his father that he never knew.

As I mentioned above, this is a knock-out book. Mankell has a way of taking horrific stories like serial killing in
One Step Behind (previously reviewed) and the torture/murder of Herbert Molin and weaving a story that tells more than just a murder mystery and descriptions of police procedure. Oh, those are there--and very well done--but the heart of the story is following the trail of vengeance, confronting true evil, plumbing secrets, and facing mortality. Mankell uses the detective story to broach broader issues of the human condition and does it with master strokes. We may know the identity of the killer well before the police do, but it takes nothing from the story. By knowing the killer, we hear his reasons for vengeance and understand, even if we do not condone. And Mankell doesn't tell us everything...he leaves a final twist at the end to provide us with a surprise or two. Four stars out of five.

1 comment:

Ivan said...

Nice reviews, Bev! I'd forgotten about this one. The Linda Wallander ones are good too. My one rule of thumb is that for some reason the one that take place outside of Sweden seem sketchy. I actually strongly disliked Mankell's recent one (his biggest seller in the U.S., I think because of Stieg Larsson coattails) that takes place partly in China.

Initially I was slightly disappointed in them, but then I liked the more recent PBS Mystery Wallanders with Kenneth Branagh. They do go too fast and compress too much, though.

Have you read any of the Sjöwall and Wahlöo mysteries that influenced Mankell? The Laughing Policeman and the Man on the Balcony are great.