The Pyramid

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 2)

When Swedish police detective Kurt Wallander first appeared in Moerdare utan ansikte (Faceless Killers, 1996) in 1991, he was a well-seasoned police officer who had just turned forty. However, his personal life was chaotic. His wife, Mona, had left him. His grown daughter, Linda, was busy with her own life, and his quirky artist father barely talked to him. His poor eating habits and solitary drinking had caused him to develop diabetes. Although he dreams of escaping from dark and dreary Ystad, Wallander remains in the city year after year vigilantly solving cases that stump his colleagues.

The Pyramid, a chronological series of five short works, serves as a prequel to author Henning Mankell’s popular Wallander detective series. The book presents Wallander as a young police officer intent on solving the crimes that will make him into a master detective.

The first story, “Wallander’s First Case,” is set in 1969. It deals with the twenty-one-year-old uniformed patrolman Wallander who is so intent upon solving his first case that he disregards safety precautions. Indeed, as the story begins, Wallander is fighting his way out of a coma, recalling the events of the past week when, after finding the body of his shadowy next-door neighbor named Hålén, he took it upon himself to find the killer. Although his superiors announce Hålén’s death as a suicide, Wallander does not agree, especially after a fire is set in the man’s apartment, as he sees it, to cover up evidence. Wallander becomes so involved in the case that he is late picking up his girlfriend Mona, and when he does manage to get to the ferry landing, he finds she has left him. He is devastated when she tells him later that evening that she wants to take a weeklong break. No matter how hard he tries, over and over again Wallander will forget about Mona when duty calls. Similarly, he will disregard his elderly father who has been feeling ignored and put aside. Wallander is amazed to find that his father has sold his childhood home and moved to a remote area in a house he has not even seen.

Eventually, Wallander discovers that the victim, Hålén, had been a sailor. In Brazil, he and a buddy named Rune had come across some jewels. However, after Rune was arrested, Hålén absconded with the jewels and hid out back home in Sweden, hoping that Rune would spend the rest of his life in a Brazilian prison. However, Rune returned to Sweden intent on revenge, and he stabs Wallander in an altercation. When Wallander comes out of the coma, Mona is smiling.

In the first story, Mankell cleverly foreshadows the Wallander couple’s future. Their love is fragile and their marriage is doomed. In addition, the author begins a theme that will continue in the entire Wallander series: the encroachment of outside negative forcesin this case from Brazilthat affects all of Swedish society. Wallander’s problems with his father illustrate how contemporary Sweden is forgetting its past.

In the next short story, “The Man with the Mask,” Wallander is a new father on his way home from work to his wife, Mona, on Christmas Eve. When he stops at a grocery storesomeone called earlier to report a suspicious strangerhe discovers the body of the elderly owner, Elma Hagman. Suddenly, he is hit from behind and, after he gains consciousness, discovers a silent young man wearing a mask standing over him holding a gun. Something has gone terribly wrong in a simple robbery, Wallander realizes, and he attempts to talk to the young man. He knows Mona will call the office to find out why he is late, the police will show up, and things could get out of hand. For a long time, the young man does not say a word, but finally he removes the mask and speaks. His name is Oliver, and he has fled South Africa after his father resisted the government and was executed. Wallander attempts to coax Oliver into putting the gun down, but when sirens are heard in the distance, the terrified young man raises the gun and, yet again, Wallander fears for his life. However, instead of shooting Wallander, the desperate man shoots himself. In this sad tale, Wallander continues to illustrate how violent outside forces moving into Sweden affect the previously peaceful country.

“The Man on the...

(The entire section is 1756 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 2)

Booklist 104, no. 22 (August 1, 2008): 46.

Kirkus Reviews 76, no. 14 (July 15, 2008): 8.

Publishers Weekly 255, no. 30 (July 28, 2008): 56.

The Times Literary Supplement, October 24, 2008, p. 21.