Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: An Event in Autumn by Henning Mankell

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading. You can also share from a book you want to highlight just because it caught your fancy.

This week I’m featuring one of the library books I borrowed this week – An Event in Autumn by Henning Mankell a Wallender thriller,

The Book Begins:

On Saturday 26 October 2002, Kurt Wallender woke up feeling very tired. It had been a trying week, as a severe cold had infected practically everybody in the Ystad police station.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice, where you grab a book and turn to page 56 (or 56% of an eBook), find one or more interesting sentences (no spoilers), and post them.

Page 56:

Linda surprised Wallender by having dinner ready when he came back home. Although it was an ordinary weekday he was tempted to open a bottle of wine – but if he did Linda would only start stirring up trouble, so he didn’t.

I’ve only read one of Mankell’s Wallender books before and that was the first one in the series – Faceless Killers. I fully intended to read more, but then never did, although I have read two other books by him. An Event in Autumn is a novella and, as explained in the Afterword, was originally written and published as a free book as part of a campaign to encourage reading in Holland.


Some cases aren’t as cold as you’d think

Kurt Wallander’s life looks like it has taken a turn for the better when his offer on a new house is accepted, only for him to uncover something unexpected in the garden – the skeleton of a middle-aged woman.

As police officers comb the property, Wallander attempts to get his new life back on course by finding the woman’s killer with the aid of his daughter, Linda. But when another discovery is made in the garden, Wallander is forced to delve further back into the area’s past.

And this has reminded me that I really must read more of the Wallender books. I bought the second book, The Dogs of Riga four years ago and it’s been sat on the bookshelves unread ever since!

Library Books 24 February 2022

I love libraries – here are some of the books I have on loan at the moment. I had made a few attempts to take a photo of these books and wasn’t happy with any of them. I’d left the books in a pile on the floor and was delighted to see this photo that my husband had taken – much better than any of my attempts.

Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz – because I enjoy his books, but I’m not sure I’ll like this one as much as his crime fiction books. It’s a James Bond thriller set in 1957 re-inventing the golden age of Bond, incorporating previously unseen Ian Fleming material.

An Event in Autumn by Henning Mankell, a Wallender thriller, again because I’ve enjoyed other books by him. This is a novella in which Wallender makes an offer on a house, and then discovers the skeleton of a middle-aged woman in the garden. What a nightmare!

Prague Nights by Benjamin Black. Black is the pen name of John Banville, another author whose books I like. This is historical crime fiction set in Prague in 1599, when the mistress of Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor, is killed and her body found thrown upon the snow in Golden Lane.

Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow, the first book in his Kindle County series, because I enjoyed the last book in the series, The Last Trial so much. This is a courtroom drama in which prosecutor Rusty Sabich stands accused of killing Carolyn with whom he had been having an affair.

Ordinary Heroes by Scott Turow, historical fiction set in World War Two, described on the front cover as ‘part mystery, part thriller, this is a quietly powerful piece of fiction.’ A courtroom journalist researches the experiences of his grandfather during the War.

Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading. You can also share from a book you want to highlight just because it caught your fancy.

i’m still reading Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light and am stuck in the middle of the book where the narrative is so slow as Cromwell reminisces about his childhood and early adult years. I’m also reading The Count of Monte Cristo, such a long book, but it is moving along swiftly and although it’s a bit confusing with all the aliases that Dantès uses I think I’ve now got them straight in my head, and I’m really enjoying it.

But it’s time I started something new – so I picked a book at random off my bookshelves and began reading The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell, the second book in his Kurt Wallander series.

The Book Begins:

It started snowing shortly after 10am.

The man in the wheelhouse of the fishing boat cursed. He’d heard the forecast, but hoped they might make the Swedish coast before the storm hit.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice. *Grab a book, any book. *Turn to Page 56 or 56% on your  ereader . If you have to improvise, that is okay. *Find a snippet, short and sweet, but no spoilers!

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

‘Bjork grabbed hold of the newspaper again and read aloud, “‘Soviet death patrols. The new Europe has exposed Sweden to crime with a political slant.’ What do they mean by that? Can anyone explain? Wallander?’


Sweden, winter, 1991. Inspector Kurt Wallander and his team receive an anonymous tip-off. A few days later a life raft is washed up on a beach. In it are two men, dressed in expensive suits, shot dead.

The dead men were criminals, victims of what seems to have been a gangland hit. But what appears to be an open-and-shut case soon takes on a far more sinister aspect. Wallander travels across the Baltic Sea, to Riga in Latvia, where he is plunged into a frozen, alien world of police surveillance, scarcely veiled threats, and lies.

Doomed always to be one step behind the shadowy figures he pursues, only Wallander’s obstinate desire to see that justice is done brings the truth to light.

I read the first Wallander book, Faceless Killers several years ago and have been wanting to read more, so this book was a lucky random pick from my bookshelves this morning.

What have you been reading lately?

Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell

Italian Shoes

I decided to read Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell, translated by Laurie Thompson, after reading After the Fire his second book about Frederick Welin.  The events in Italian Shoes take place eight years earlier and explains in more detail Welin’s background and why he lives in self-imposed exile on an island in the Swedish archipelago. The two books can be read as standalones, but I think it would be better to read them in order to make a complete whole. These books are not Kurt Wallender mysteries but are character studies of a man living on his own, trying to come to terms with his past and reflecting on ageing and death. He cuts a hole in the ice every morning and lowers himself into the freezing water to remind himself that he is alive.

If this description makes Welin sound cold that is because he is a loner and finds it difficult to open himself up to others. He is sixty six, lives alone, apart from his cat and his dog, both of them old and dying, and he has no real friends. There is Jansson, a hypochondriac, the  postman who visits daily, but Welin doesn’t like him. He has come to a point in his life when he can’t decide what to do but suspects that his life would continue in the same way and nothing would change.

How wrong he was! That January after a snowstorm he saw a figure standing out on the ice motionless leaning on a Zimmer frame three nautical miles from the mainland. It was Harriet, the woman he had loved and abandoned nearly 40 years earlier, leaving her without any explanation. From that point onwards his life changes dramatically, for Harriet is terminally ill and wants him to take her to a small lake in northern Sweden, hidden deep in the forest; a place Welin’s father took him to once as a boy. But there are more revelations and he is forced to face the mistakes he made in the past.

The book is written in four parts, or Movements – Ice, the winter in which Welin is frozen both in his emotions and feelings, The Forest, the spring as his life and feelings begin to emerge, The Sea as his life begins to change and finally, Winter Solstice as the days start to lengthen and Welin’s new life actually begins.

I was puzzled at first by two things – the title, Italian Shoes, which seemed to be at odds with the book’s description about a man living on his own in the Swedish archipelago. the first clue comes with the quotation at the beginning of the book from Chuang Chou:

When the shoe fits, you don’t think about the feet.

Feet and shoes are mention several times throughout the book – Welin wears cut-off wellington boots most of the time – Harriet used to work in a shoe shop – and an Italian shoemaker who lives in the forest promises to make him a pair of shoes.

The second thing that made me wonder is the presence of a gigantic anthill in Welin’s living room. I do not like ants at all and the thought of an anthill next to a table in the middle of the room, almost as high as the table, swallowing up the cloth hanging down over the edge is horrific. It has been there for eleven years, containing maybe a million or more ants and Welin does not want to part with it – until the end of the book. I decided it symbolised his  inertia during the time it had been growing and he watched the ants at work. Its removal signified the change that takes place in his life.

Although this is a dark and melancholy book, as it progresses Welin begins to come to life again and to interact with others, taking responsibility for his past actions. It’s a beautifully written book, with vivid descriptions of the settings and the weather and I found it absolutely fascinating.

This book slots into the only reading challenge I’m doing this year – What’s in a Name 2018. It fits into the category of a book with a nationality in the title. It’s also one of my TBRs.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 783 KB
  • Print Length: 370 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0099548364
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital (2 April 2009)
  • Source: I bought it
  • My Rating: 4*

New-to-Me Books from Barter Books

Yesterday I went to my favourite bookshop Barter Books, one of the largest secondhand bookshops in Britain. This is where you can ‘swap’ books for credit that you can then use to get more books from the Barter Books shelves.

These are the books I brought home:



A Killing of Angels by Kate Rhodes (a new-to-me author) – the second book in her Alice Quentin series. I haven’t read the first book but I thought this looks good – it’s a psychological thriller. At the height of a summer heatwave, a killer stalks the City of London.The avenging angel leaves behind a scattering of feathers with each body – but why these victims? What were their sins?

Winter Garden by Beryl Bainbridge – described on the back cover as ‘surreal’ (TLS) and ‘very funny as well as a frightening book’ (Guardian), I’m not sure what I’ll make of this book about a womaniser who begins an extra-marital affair, but I’ve liked other books by Beryl Bainbridge.

The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell. I’ve enjoyed a couple of his books before, so this Inspector Wallander book caught my eye. A little raft is washed ashore on a beach in Sweden. It contains two men, shot dead. They’re identified as criminals, victims of a gangland hit. Wallander’s investigation takes him to Latvia.

The Widow’s War by Sally Gunning – another new-to-me author. This is historical fiction set in 1761 about a whaler’s wife in the Cape Cod village of Satucket in Massachusetts, living with the daily uncertainty that her husband Edward will simply not return. And when her worst fear is realised, she finds herself doubly cursed.

Have you read any of these? Do they tempt you too?

After the Fire by Henning Mankell

Publication: Random House UK, Vintage Publishing, Harvill Secker, 5 October 2017

Source: review copy via NetGalley

My rating: 5*


Fredrik Welin is a seventy-year-old retired doctor. Years ago he retreated to the Swedish archipelago, where he lives alone on an island. He swims in the sea every day, cutting a hole in the ice if necessary. He lives a quiet life. Until he wakes up one night to find his house on fire.

Fredrik escapes just in time, wearing two left-footed wellies, as neighbouring islanders arrive to help douse the flames. All that remains in the morning is a stinking ruin and evidence of arson. The house that has been in his family for generations and all his worldly belongings are gone. He cannot think who would do such a thing, or why. Without a suspect, the police begin to think he started the fire himself.

Tackling love, loss and loneliness, After the Fire is Henning Mankell’s compelling last novel.

My thoughts:

After the Fire by Henning Mankell, translated by Marlaine Delargy, is not standard crime fiction and although there are crimes committed they are not the main focus of the book.  Living alone on an isolated island in the Swedish archipelago, Fredrik, a retired doctor, is devastated by the fire which destroyed the house he had inherited from his grandparents. He has nothing left apart from a boathouse, where he had set up an improvised surgery, a caravan (belonging to his daughter, Louise), and a boat. Suspected by the police of starting the fire, he tries to discover the culprit.

But the main emphasis of the book is on his reflections on life, death, ageing, and loneliness.  I found it absolutely fascinating as Fredrik looks back over his life.  His relationship with his daughter, Louise, who he hadn’t known about until she was an adult, is difficult – he knows almost nothing about her. However this changes when she comes to the island to decide what to do next and he gets more involved in her life.

Told in the first person by Fredrik it goes into detail about his fears of dying and the difficulties of understanding other people and both beginning and maintaining relationships. He has no real friends and only knows a handful of people living on the islands.  There is Jansson, a hypochondriac, the former postman, a snooper who read all the postcards he delivered, Oslovski, who he describes as a strange woman his contact with her is only to the extent of checking her blood pressure from time to time and parking his car outside her house on the mainland. Then there is Lisa, a journalist who writes for the local paper, a new acquaintance who interviews him about the fire and Nordin who owns the chandlery.

It’s beautifully written and I was entranced. I found it all very real, the people, the places and the mystery. It is both a character study  and a meditation on the complexities of life and death. Once I began reading I just didn’t want it to end.

Sunday Salon

Last Sunday I wrote that I was going to concentrate on reading just two books at a time concentrating on reading one non-fiction and one fiction. I sort of stuck to my plan and am still reading Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God. I finished Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear (more about that in a later post) and my plan after that was to go back to reading one of the books shown on the sidebar – Wolf Hall or The Children’s Book.

But it didn’t work out like that, because I went with D to a hospital appointment and needed a book to read whilst waiting. Both Wolf Hall and The Children’s Book are heavy hardbacks and wouldn’t fit in my handbag so instead I picked up one of my library books – Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell and started to read that. Reading in a hospital waiting room is an exercise in concentration. First off  we had to use the hand spray to prevent catching, spreading the swine flu germs – how that works I don’t understand given that once you’re in you have to touch chairs, doors etc. Then we were told to sit on the green chairs whilst waiting to go to the next waiting area. The green chairs are next to the entrance doors that open automatically each time someone goes near, and it was a wet, windy day. One small boy was fascinated by the doors and kept walking in front of them saying “close” when they opened which meant that they stayed open. This went on for several minutes until his mother came and took him away. I read a few pages whilst being alternately amused and irritated and shivering.

We then were called to the next waiting area – no automatic doors, but a constant stream of doctors and nurses calling out names and ushering people through, people complaining about how long they’d had to wait, the phone ringing and people talking loudly. Still, it is a hospital, not a reading room, no matter how long you have to wait. But Faceless Killers is sufficiently engrossing so that I was hardly aware of what was going on around me.

I finshed it this morning and will now read either Wolf Hall or The Children’s Book. I started both of them a while back and only put them down because they’re so heavy it’s hard to read them in bed (where I like to do my reading). I’ll have to work on strengthening my hands and arms.

I hadn’t heard of Henning Mankell until the BBC broadcast the Wallender series last year with Kenneth Branagh playing Kurt Wallender. I’d been meaning to read one of the books since then. Branagh’s face was inevitably in my mind as I read Faceless Killers, but as it wasn’t one of the books filmed the rest was purely down to my imagination from reading the book.  Wallender is yet another detective to join the ranks of Rebus in my mind. He is a senior police officer and, like Morse, listens to opera in his car and in his apartment. He is lonely, morose, overweight and drinks too much. His wife, Mona has left him, he’s estranged from his daughter, Linda and has problems with his father, an artist who has painted the same picture for years and is now senile.

I discovered on the Inspector Wallender website that Faceless Killers is the first in the Kurt Wallender series of books, so for once I’ve begun at the beginning of a series! (Although Wallender first appears in The Pyramid, a collection of short stories). It’s about the brutal murder of the Lovgrens, an old man and his wife in an isolated farmhouse in Skane, the southern most province in Sweden (there’s a helpful map in the book). The old lady’s last word is “foreign”. Does this mean the killers are foreigners? When this is leaked to the press the ugly issue of racial hatred is raised. Are the killers illegal immigrants from the refugee camps, or should the police be looking at the Lovgrens’ family? Why would anyone kill them in such a savage way – they weren’t rich and had no enemies?

This is not just a detective story, apart from racial discrimination and refugees, Wallender reflects on the problems of change in Swedish society, of aging, and of the uncertainty and fragility of life – the incantation he often reflects on is:

A time to live and a time to die.

I hope to find the next Wallender book to read soon: The Dogs of Riga.

Faceless Killers, like other Wallender books, has been adapted into a series on Swedish TV and an English version, again with Kenneth Branagh, is due to be broadcast next year.