Welcome to Ystad: home of sea, sand – and slaughter. This southern Swedish seaside town, previously best known for its fine beaches and quaint timber-framed houses, has become synonymous with murder. You could be forgiven for thinking that the only place in Europe statistically less safe to live was Detective Superintendent Barnaby’s Midsomer.
After ten books by Henning Mankell averaging roughly four murders each about the ever-melancholy Detective Inspector Kurt Wallander, Ystad is the undisputed murder capital of Scandinavia.
And crime pays. With more than 25 million books sold globally in 37 languages, Wallander tourism is now a big earner for the town. And it’s about to get bigger, with the BBC about to broadcast three films shot in the town starring Kenneth Branagh. Three more are in the planning stages, and worldwide broadcasting rights are being snapped up.
Ystad has been quick to cater to the Wallander tourists, but without overkill. So don’t expect any novelty T-shirts proclaiming: “My mum and dad went to Ystad and all I got was this bloodstained T-shirt”, or action figures of the detective sitting at his kitchen table hunched over an open-face sandwich.
But there are guided tours of key locations – for some reason aboard a vintage fire engine – and maps from the local tourist office enabling you to follow “in Wallander’s footsteps”.
The latter is to be recomended, as it gives you the opportunity to explore this charming town at your own pace and cast your mind back to the relevant grisly murder scene, while avoiding bumping along with a load of other self-conscious tourists on the back of the fire engine.
As good a place as any to start your tour is the train station. Walk a couple of dozen metres to your left along the road after disembarking the train and you find yourself at the location where a scalped corpse was hidden under a tarpaulin in a hole in the road in the book Sidetracked.
Don’t look for a blue plaque or anything commemorating the dreadful deed; you’ll just have to use your imagination for its exact location. My guess puts it somewhere between the traffic lights and the bike racks.
Retrace your steps, and just across the small square from the train station is the tourist office. Here you can pick up your town map while pondering the fact that it was precisely here that ex-KGB baddie Rykoff rented the remote house where the African would-be assassin is hidden in The White Lioness. No corpses here, unfortunately, but a Wallander location all the same.
Moving along, a compulsory stop on any itinerary is Wallander’s flat, at 10 Mariagatan. It is here that our hero struggles to sleep, listens to opera, ingests industrial amounts of coffee and sulks about his wife leaving him. The keen-eyed will note that there is in fact no streetlight outside the first-floor flat window to be buffeted by the wind, which is a recurring image in any Wallander book. But you can be reassured that a middle-aged German visitor has already brought this forcefully to the attention of the tourist office.
Up on the hill, just on the north side of the old water tower, you’ll find Ystad Police Station, nerve centre for the investigations into the non-stop procession of murders that curse the town.
Unfortunately the famous cafeteria, with its constantly-on-the-blink coffee machine, and the offices of Wallander and his overworked colleagues cannot be visited, but by all accounts they fit the standard international cop-office template of jumbled desk, filing cabinets and magnolia walls, so you’re missing nothing.
It is often in the rolling countryside around Ystad that Mankell’s psychopaths, mercenaries and other assorted murderers get busy, and visiting them will give you the chance to explore the joys of Skåne rolling landscape.
Don’t let the books fool you that the only weather we get here is rain, sleet, rain, fog and rain. But any of the above will certainly add a measure of authenticity to your visit.
Out to the east of the town near the former summer home of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld (who died in a plane crash in mysterious circumstances in Zaire in 1961 – no, for real; it’s not in a Wallander book), you have Hagestad Wildlife Protection Area. Here we had the cold-blooded murder of three teenagers celebrating midsummer dressed in period costume in One Step Behind.
Why not bring some friends and recreate the slaughter? Or do as another Wallander tourist did, and spend the night in the deserted car park, reading the book by torchlight to soak up the real terror of this isolated spot?
Over to the west of Ystad, near the stately home at Marsvinsholm with its twin towers, is where the murders that kicked off the whole Wallander phenomenon took place – the brutal and unprovoked slaying of an elderly couple in Faceless Killers.
The village of Lenarp named in the book does not actually exist, but this general location also gives you the chance to view the field where young Dolores Maria Santana memorably poured petrol over her head and torched herself while Wallander looked on horrified in Sidetracked, which is one of the three BBC films.
Back in town, there are another 50 or so locations from the books and the original movies (made in Swedish a few years back) for the enthusiast to take in. In fact, there is little in this town that has not featured in some way.
To wind up your Wallander tour, maybe grab a coffee and a pastry at our hero’s favourite café, Fridolfs, back at the square by the station. Then, with a nervous glance over your shoulder and your heart pounding in your chest, jump back on the train and consider yourself lucky to have made it out alive.
See also: Photo Gallery