Book Club: Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards - [email protected]
Book Club: Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell
Henning Mankell is one of Sweden's leading crime writers. Photo: Adam Ihse/TT

Each month, The Local Sweden's Book Club reads a different book with a Swedish link. Here's what our readers thought of our November pick, Nordic Noir classic, Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell.


The murder that kicks off the story is a grisly and senseless one.

In a rural Swedish farmhouse, an elderly couple have been brutally tortured, and before the wife dies of her injuries she is able to utter just one word: "foreign". 

Inspector Wallander soon becomes obsessed with solving this crime, which feels like it could aggravate anti-immigrant tensions in Sweden. It's a dark, suspenseful and topical novel even two decades after first publication.

Some of our readers pointed out that the novel shows the police team working together, with lots of evidence of stereotypical Swedish flat hierarchies and management by consensus. This is in contrast to the lone detectives like Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes, who won't even allow their sidekicks to follow along with their train of thought. 

Wallander has his faults, from neglect of family members to some displays of sexism, but he feels very human, with a love of opera, promises to change his eating habits that come to nothing when life gets in the way, and strained relationships. And other touches made the book feel real, not least the constant weather chat and cups of coffee enjoyed by the police officers.

Mankell's novels have become international bestsellers and Faceless Killers is the book in which we're first introduced to opera-loving detective Kurt Wallander. One year after its publication, it won the inaugural Glass Key award, which was set up to honour the year's best Nordic crime novel, and the Wallander series has been adapted for TV and film. The book was translated into English by Steven T. Murray.

Earlier in the month, we spoke to critic Barry Forshaw about Wallander, Mankell, and the global fascination with Nordic noir.

It was our most popular Book Club pick so far, with most of our readers enjoying the pace, the moody southern Swedish setting, and the complex character of Wallander himself.

"I have never read this genre and was surprised that I really liked it. It moved at a good pace and had interesting characters. I did expect it to get a bit more into the immigration issue. It was a quick read, if one in a series about this detective - I’d read more!" - Elle Bushfield

"I loved Faceless Killers, very well written as usual. One is always waiting for something to happen. I lived in Sweden only one year, although l was born there, and l have been to Ystad, so l love the description of the places!" - Gun-Marie Nalsen

"I have never read murder mystery genres. I am now reading Mankell’s third book in the series. I am enjoying the close reading that it takes to pay attention to any clues. With that close reading, the mundane details paint a realistic Sweden. The characters are humble and self reflecting. The weather is a constant threat. Tying these elements together with brutal crime allows the reader to reach for social consciousness." - Suzette Ehrlich

"I first read this book about ten years ago after watching the UK TV adaptation of the novels with Kenneth Branagh. At that time I had only ever been to Gothenburg. Now I live in Skåne and I absolutely loved reading the description of the countryside and the people. It is almost impossible to believe the novel was written nearly 30 years ago - such foresight into the issues which would become so difficult and divisive in 21st century Europe. A really excellent read - characters to whom you can relate and with whom you empathise." - Eilidh Wiseman

"This book had me hooked from the start and by the third page I had a hard time putting it down. A very brutal crime was committed and there is not much for the police to work with. The main detective, Wallander, is also dealing with several personal problems that anyone of us might have. These take a noticeable toll on his mind & body. There are also false leads that are followed and which waste time & resources. This book is a good example of police procedure and good old-fashioned police work which solves the case." - Bradley Melton

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