Thursday 31st January
As a young teenager I read Agatha Christie books with relish, then one day I discovered a book by Georges Simenon in a second hand shop. I had seen Maigret on the TV, and hadn’t been grabbed by it, but I didn’t realise that Maigret was books too. I started reading them. Voraciously. I was drawn to the seedy side of Paris, the street names, the characters flaws and the whole Gallic smell of the books. I had probably been reading Agatha Christie for that lost world of the thirties and forties, of country houses and rich people travelling on luxury trains. I don’t think I ever really cared who killed who, or the processes of deduction employed by Poirot or Miss Marple.
Although reading widely over the years I have recently been seduced again by these series of crime novels. Ian Rankin’s superb Rebus books got me hooked for a time, and again it was the slow deterioration of Rebus as a person that I was fascinated by not the crimes in themselves. Over one book a clever author can establish great characters, but there is always a slight feeling of loss when you close the book for the last time. With these crime novels you return time and time again to the familiarity of people you almost love.
I was bought the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a few years ago and loved it, and in quick succession read the other two. This was a new take on the crime book, with a very Scandinavian twist. The landscapes are bleak and cold, the living is hard, the crimes are unspeakable and the detectives are unconventional and yet quite ordinary too. The best I have found so far is Wallander. And I am drawn inexorably back to him. I, struggling writer that I am, still cannot find what is so good about the writing. He uses a lot of very short sentences, and is constantly drawing us back to how Wallander is feeling, which is usually miserable.
Well, whatever magic he possesses Henning Mankell, the author has found a secret lode of gold. I love reading his Wallander books, immersing myself in a strange culture; the street and town names, the windswept flat landscape, the small town people, the quite ordinariness of it all, the routine of police work, the sense of frustration, the sadness of Wallander’s life. And I am inexorably drawn back to him, time and time again.