One Step Behind (Kurt Wallander Series #7)

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Overview

Sixth in the Kurt Wallander series.

On Midsummer’s Eve, three role-playing teens dressed in eighteenth-century garb are shot in a secluded Swedish meadow. When one of Inspector Kurt Wallander’s most trusted colleagues–someone whose help he hoped to rely on to solve the crime–also turns up dead, Wallander knows the murders are related. But with his only clue a picture of a woman no one in Sweden seems to know, he can’t begin to imagine how. Reeling from his own father’s death and...

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One Step Behind (Kurt Wallander Series #7)

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Overview

Sixth in the Kurt Wallander series.

On Midsummer’s Eve, three role-playing teens dressed in eighteenth-century garb are shot in a secluded Swedish meadow. When one of Inspector Kurt Wallander’s most trusted colleagues–someone whose help he hoped to rely on to solve the crime–also turns up dead, Wallander knows the murders are related. But with his only clue a picture of a woman no one in Sweden seems to know, he can’t begin to imagine how. Reeling from his own father’s death and facing his own deteriorating health, Wallander tracks the lethal progress of the killer. Locked in a desperate effort to catch him before he strikes again, Wallander always seems to be just one step behind.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Lyrical, meticulous, and stunningly suspenseful.” –St. Petersburg Times

“Typical of the dense, intricate intelligence that Mankell brings to detection and crime writing.” –The Washington Post Book World

“Satisfying in a way that has less to do with the wonders of forensic science than with the pure pleasure of rational thought.” –The New York Times

“It is not hard to see why the Wallander books have made a particular impact.” —Times Literary Supplement

Publishers Weekly
In his fifth U.S. appearance in this taut, intricately plotted series (The Fifth Woman, etc.), Swedish detective Kurt Wallander pursues a long, complex case sure to please those who like weighty police procedurals. Six weeks after three college students are murdered during a Midsummer's Eve party, their bodies hidden to prevent discovery, Wallander's secretive colleague Svedberg is found at home with half his head blown off. Wallander's persistent, occasionally brilliant, investigation points to a connection between Svedberg and the disappearance of the three young people. Soon after their bodies surface, a fourth friend, who was too sick to attend the party, is killed. More murders follow, with the exhausted, understaffed detectives just too late each time to prevent the next crime. Eventually the reader meets the killer, whose bizarre motive and methods the author gradually reveals. The dyspeptic Wallander, whose frazzled personal life is further impaired by the diabetes he ignores, works himself to exhaustion, sidestepping official procedure and making intuitive leaps to find the cold-blooded killer. The glum tone of the book, despite the setting during a warm and luxuriant late summer, reflects a crumbling Swedish society: government corruption is widespread; honest cops are disillusioned by abuses in high officialdom; rifts among social classes and between Swedes and recent immigrants abound. Mankell's writing is deadpan and stark, the plotting meticulous and exacting. (Feb. 28) Forecast: Though a bestseller in Europe with both film and TV adaptations to his credit, Mankell has so far failed to take off here. Alas, Scandinavian dreariness just doesn't seem to have broad appeal to American readers. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Devotees of Inspector Kurt Wallander can only bemoan the fact that this is just the fifth (out of nine books) in this Swedish mystery series to be published in the United States. Here, Wallander confronts perhaps his most horrific case, when the murder of a trusted colleague, Svedberg, and the disappearance of three young people begin to merge. Battling his own fatigue and illness, Wallander assiduously strips away layer after layer, dredging up fragments of conversations and crime-scene clues that lead him closer and closer to the killer, who plays him cleverly and remains one step ahead until the brutal end. Mankell focuses less on Wallander's personal relationships and on what he sees as the deterioration of Swedish quality of life than in the previous books, but nevertheless the subtext is there. Essential for public libraries, though newcomers may want to start earlier in the series (with The White Lioness or Sidetracked). Francine Fialkoff, "Library Journal" Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In Ystad, the middle-sized Swedish city that Chief Inspector Kurt Wallander (The Fifth Woman, 2000, etc.) tries to keep law-abiding, it seems he's succeeding: big crime has taken a holiday during a decorous summer. But Wallander, just returned from a holiday of his own, is feeling far less invigorated than he expected to. He's got no energy, no zest for the job, and no reason to plan for life much beyond 50, his doctor tells him grimly, unless he does something about the hours he works, the junk food he eats, and the exercise he assiduously avoids. Even as Wallander vows to reinvent himself, however, all hell breaks loose in Ystad, ending any dreams of peace for weary Wallander and his undermanned department. Three young celebrants of a bizarre, if probably harmless, Midsummer's Eve ritual, first thought to be only missing, are found murdered, executed by bullets to their heads. Next, one of Wallander's special officers is shotgunned to death in his own house. The homicides that follow give every indication of being somehow connected. Clearly, Ystad has a serial killer on its hands, a careful, crafty killer with an obsessive hatred for, of all things, happiness. Wallander, who has always maintained that there are "evil circumstances" and "evil conditions" but no people with evil "hardwired in their genes," is shaken. And then, one night, alone in the secluded woods, he knows he's being stalked by a monster. Maigret lives in this brilliant police procedural, the best of Wallander's adventures to date.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400031511
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/14/2003
  • Series: Kurt Wallander Series , #7
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 179,077
  • Product dimensions: 5.18 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Meet the Author

Henning Mankell
Internationally acclaimed author Henning Mankell has written eight novels and a collection of short stories featuring Kurt Wallander. The books have been published in thirty-three countries and consistently top the bestseller lists in Europe, receiving major literary prizes (including Great Britain’s Gold Dagger in 2000) and generating numerous international film and television adaptations. He has also published many other novels for children, young people, and adults, and is one of Sweden’s most frequently performed dramatists. He has spent many years in Africa, where a number of his novels are set. Born in 1948, Mankell grew up in the Swedish village of Sveg. He now divides his time between Sweden and Maputo, Mozambique, where he works as a director at Teatro Avenida.

Biography

Henning Mankell was born in Stockholm in 1948. He is the author of many works of fiction, including the nine novels in the Kurt Wallander series. He has worked as an actor, theatre director, and manager in Sweden and in Mozambique -- where he is now head of the Teatro Avenida in Maputo.

Author biography courtesy of The Random House Group.

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    1. Hometown:
      Mozambique, Africa
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 3, 1948
    2. Place of Birth:
      Stockholm, Sweden
    1. Education:
      Folkskolan Elementary Shool, Sveg; Högre Allmäna Läroverket, Borås

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


On Wednesday, the seventh of August, 1996, Kurt Wallander came close to being killed in a traffic accident just east of Ystad.

    It happened early in the morning, shortly after six o'clock. He had just driven through Nybrostrand on his way out to Österlen. Suddenly he had seen a truck looming in front of his Peugeot. He heard the truck's horn blaring as he violently wrenched the wheel to the side.

    Afterward he had pulled off the road. That was when the fear set in. His heart throbbed in his rib cage. He felt nauseated and dizzy, and he thought he was about to faint. He kept his hands tightly clenched around the wheel.

    When he calmed himself he slowly realized what had happened.

    He had fallen asleep at the wheel. Nodded off just long enough for his old car to begin to drift into the opposing lane.

    One second longer and he would have been dead, crushed by the heavy truck.

    The realization made him feel suddenly empty. The only thing he could think of was the time, a few years earlier, when he had almost driven into an elk outside Tingsryd.

    But back then it had been dark and foggy. This time he had nodded off at the wheel.

    The fatigue.

    He didn't understand it. It had come over him without warning, shortly before the start of his vacation at the beginning of June. This year he had planned to take his vacation early. But the whole holiday had been lost to rain. It was only when he returned to work shortly afterMidsummer that the warm and sunny weather had come to Skåne.

    The tiredness had been there all along. He could fall asleep in whatever chair he happened to find himself in. Even after a long night's undisturbed sleep, he had to force himself out of bed. Often when he was in the car he found himself needing to pull over to take a short nap.

    He didn't understand it. His daughter Linda had asked him about his lack of energy during the week that they had spent sightseeing together in Gotland. It was on one of the last days, when they had checked into an inn in Burgsvik. They had spent the day exploring the southern tip of Gotland, and they had eaten dinner at a pizzeria before returning to the inn. The evening was particularly beautiful.

    She had asked him point-blank about the fatigue. He had studied her face on the other side of the kerosene lamp and realized that her question had been thought out in advance. But he shrugged it off. There was nothing wrong with him. Surely, the fact that he used part of his vacation to catch up on lost sleep was to be expected. Linda didn't ask any other questions. But he knew that she hadn't believed him.

    Now he realized that he couldn't ignore it any longer. The fatigue wasn't natural. Something was wrong. He tried to think if he had other symptoms that could signal an illness. But apart from the fact that he sometimes woke in the middle of the night with leg cramps, he hadn't been able to think of anything.

    He realized how close to death he had been. Now he couldn't put it off any longer. He would make an appointment with the doctor today.

    He started the engine and drove on. He rolled down the windows. Although it was already August, the heat of summer showed no sign of letting up.

    Wallander was on his way to his father's house in Löderup. No matter how many times he went down this road, he still found it hard to adjust to the fact that his father wouldn't be sitting there in his studio, surrounded by the ever-present smell of turpentine, in front of the easel where he painted pictures of a recurring and unchanging subject: a landscape, with or without a wood grouse in the foreground, the sun hanging from invisible threads above the treetops.

    It had been close to two years now since Gertrud had called the police station in Ystad and told him that his father was lying dead on the studio floor. He could still recall with photographic clarity his drive out to Löderup, denying that it could be true. But when he had seen Gertrud in the yard, he had known he could not repress it any longer. He had known what awaited him.

    The two years had gone by quickly. As often as he could, but not often enough, he visited Gertrud, who still lived in his father's house. A year went by before they began to clean up the studio in earnest. They found a total of thirty-two paintings that were completed and signed. One night in December of 1995, they sat down at Gertrud's kitchen table and made up a list of the people who would receive these paintings. Wallander kept two for himself. One with a wood grouse, the other without. Linda would get one, as would his ex-wife, Mona. Surprisingly, and disappointingly to Wallander, his sister Kristina had not wanted one. Gertrud already had several and did not need any more. They therefore had twenty-eight paintings to give away. With some hesitation, Wallander sent one to a detective in Kristianstad with whom he had had sporadic contact. But after giving away twenty-three of the paintings, they couldn't think of any more names. At that point they had even given one to each of Gertrud's relatives. There were five paintings remaining.

    Wallander wondered what he should do with them. He knew that he would never be able to make himself burn them.

    Technically they belonged to Gertrud. But she had said that he and Kristina should have them. She had come so late into their father's life.

    Wallander passed the turnoff to Kåseberga. He would be there soon. He thought about the task that lay before him. One evening in May, he and Gertrud had taken a long walk along the tractor trails that wound their way along the edges of the linseed fields. She said she no longer wanted to live there. It was starting to get too lonely.

    "I don't want to live there so long that he starts to haunt me," she said.

    Instinctively, he knew what she meant. He would probably have reacted the same way.

    They walked between the fields and she asked for his help in selling the house. There was no hurry; it could wait until the summer's end. But she wanted to move out before the fall. Her sister was newly widowed and lived outside the town of Rynge, and that was where she wanted to move too.

    Now the time had come. Wallander had taken the day off. At nine o'clock a real estate agent would come out from Ystad, and together they would settle on a reasonable selling price. Before that, Wallander and Gertrud would go through the last few boxes of his father's belongings. They had finished packing the week before. His colleague Martinsson came out with a trailer and they made several trips to the dump outside Hedeskoga. It occurred to Wallander, who was experiencing a growing sense of unease, that what remained of a person's life inevitably ended up at the nearest dump.

    All that was left of his father now—aside from the memories—were some photographs, five paintings, and some boxes of old letters and papers. Nothing more. His life was over and completely accounted for.

    Wallander turned down the road leading to his father's house.

    He caught a glimpse of Gertrud waiting in the yard. She was always up early.

    She greeted him. To his surprise he saw that she was wearing the same dress she had worn at the wedding. He immediately felt a lump in his throat. For Gertrud, this was a moment of solemnity. She was leaving her home.

    They drank coffee in the kitchen, where the doors to the cabinets stood ajar and revealed empty shelves. Gertrud's sister was coming to get her today. Wallander would keep one key and give the other to the real estate agent.

    Together they leafed through the contents of the two boxes. Among the old letters Wallander was surprised to find a pair of children's shoes that he seemed to remember from his childhood. Had his father saved them all these years?

     He carried the boxes out to the car. When he closed the car door, he saw Gertrud on the steps. She smiled.

    "There are five paintings left. You haven't forgotten about them, have you?"

    Wallander shook his head. He walked toward the little house that had been his father's studio. The door was open. Although they had cleaned in here, the smell of turpentine remained. The pot that his father had used for making endless cups of coffee stood on the hotplate.

    This may be the last time I am here, he thought. But in contrast to Gertrud I haven't dressed up. I'm in my old baggy clothes. And if I hadn't been so lucky I could also have been dead now, like my father. Linda would have to drive to the dump with what was left after me. And among my stuff she would find two paintings, one with a wood grouse painted in the foreground.

    The place spooked him. His father was still in there in the dark studio.

    The paintings were leaning against one wall. He carried them to the car. Then he lay them in the trunk and spread a blanket over them. Gertrud remained on the steps.

    "Is there anything else?" she asked.

    Wallander shook his head.

    "There's nothing else," he answered. "Nothing."


* * *


At nine o'clock the real estate agent's car swung into the yard. When the man behind the wheel got out, Wallander realized to his surprise that he recognized him. His name was Robert Åkerblom. A couple of years earlier his wife had been brutally murdered and disposed of in an old well. It had been one of the most difficult and grisly murder investigations that Wallander had ever been involved in. He furrowed his brow. He had decided to contact a large real estate company that had offices all over Sweden. Åkerblom's business did not belong to them, if it was even still in existence. Wallander thought he had heard that it had closed shortly after Louise Åkerblom's murder.

    He went out onto the steps. Robert Åkerblom looked exactly as Wallander remembered him. At their first meeting in Wallander's office he had wept. Wallander seemed to recall thinking at the time that Robert Åkerblom had one of those faces he would never remember. But the worry and grief for his wife had been genuine. Wallander recalled that they had been active in a non-Lutheran church. He thought they were Methodists.

    They shook hands.

    "We meet again," said Robert Åkerblom.

    His voice sounded familiar. For a second Wallander felt confused. What was the right thing to say?

    But Robert Åkerblom beat him to the punch.

    "I grieve for her as much now as I did then," he said slowly. "But of course it's even harder for the girls."

    Wallander remembered the two girls. They had been so young then. They took it in without being able to fully understand what had happened.

    "It must be hard," he said.

    For a moment he was afraid that the events of the last meeting would repeat themselves; that Robert Åkerblom would start crying. But that didn't happen.

    "I tried to keep the business going," he continued, "but I didn't have the energy. When I got the offer to join the firm of a competitor, I took it. I've never regretted it. I don't have the long nights of going over the books anymore. I've been able to spend more time with the girls."

    Gertrud joined them and they went through the house together. Robert Åkerblom made notes and took some photographs. Afterward they had a cup of coffee in the kitchen. The price that Åkerblom came up with seemed low to Wallander at first. Then he realized that it was three times what his father had paid for the place.

    Robert Åkerblom left a little after eleven o'clock. Wallander thought he should perhaps stay until Gertrud's sister came to get her. But she sensed his thoughts and told him she didn't mind being left alone.

    "It's a beautiful day," she said. "Summer has come at last, even though it's almost over. I'll sit in the garden."

    "I'll stay if you like. I'm off work today."

    Gertrud shook her head.

    "Come and see me in Rynge," she said. "But wait a couple of weeks first. I have to get settled in."

    Wallander got in his car and drove back to Ystad. He was going straight home to make an appointment with his doctor. Then he would sign up to use the laundry facilities and clean the apartment.

    Since he wasn't in a hurry, he chose the longer way back. He liked driving, just looking at the landscape and letting his mind wander.

    He had just passed Valleberga when the phone rang. It was Martinsson. Wallander pulled over.

    "I've been trying to get hold of you," Martinsson said. "Of course no one mentioned that you were off work today. And do you know that your answering machine is broken?"

    Wallander knew the machine sometimes got stuck. He also immediately sensed that something had just happened. Although he had been a policeman for a long time, the feeling was always the same. His stomach tensed up. He held his breath.

    "I'm calling you from Hansson's room," Martinsson continued. "Astrid Hillström's mother is here to see me."

    "Who?"

    "Astrid Hillström. One of those missing kids. Her mother."

    Now Wallander knew who he meant.

    "What does she want?"

    "She's very upset. Her daughter sent her a postcard from Vienna."

    Wallander furrowed his brow.

    "Isn't it good news that she's finally written?"

    "She claims her daughter didn't write it. She's upset that we're not doing anything."

    "How can we do anything when no crime seems to have been committed? When all the evidence indicates that they left of their own accord?"

    Martinsson paused for a moment before answering.

    "I don't know what it is," he said. "But I have a feeling that there's something to what she's saying. I don't know what—but there's something. Maybe."

    Wallander immediately grew more attentive. Over the years he had learned to take Martinsson's hunches seriously. More often than not, they were later proved right.

    "Do you want me to come in?"

    "No, but I think you, me, and Svedberg should talk this thing over tomorrow morning."

    "What time?"

    "How about eight o'clock? I'll tell Svedberg."

    Wallander sat still for a moment after the conversation was over. He watched a tractor out on a field.

    He thought about what Martinsson had said. He had also met Astrid Hillström's mother on several occasions.

    He went over the events again in his mind.

    A few days after Midsummer's Eve some young people were reported missing. It happened right after he had returned from his rainy vacation. He reviewed the case together with a couple of his colleagues. From the outset he doubted that any crime had been committed and, as it turned out, a postcard arrived from Hamburg three days later. It had a picture of the central railway station on the front. Wallander could recall its message word for word. We are traveling around Europe. We may be gone until the middle of August.

    Today it was Wednesday, the seventh of August. They would be home soon. Another postcard written by Astrid Hillström came from Vienna.

    The first card was signed by all three of them. Their parents recognized the signatures. Only Astrid Hillström's mother hesitated. But she allowed herself to be convinced by the others.

    Wallander glanced in his rearview mirror and drove out onto the main road. Martinsson had been right about his misgivings.


Wallander parked on Mariagatan and carried up the boxes and the five paintings. Then he sat down by the phone. At his regular doctor's office he only reached an answering machine. The doctor wouldn't be back from vacation until the twelfth of August. Wallander wondered if he should wait until then, but he couldn't shake the thought of how close to death he had come that morning. He called another doctor and made an appointment for eleven o'clock the following day. He signed up to do laundry, then started cleaning his apartment. He was already completely exhausted after doing the bedroom. He pulled the vacuum cleaner back and forth a few times over the living room floor, then put it away. He carried the boxes and paintings into the room that Linda normally used the few times she came to stay.

    He drank three glasses of water in the kitchen.

    He wondered about his thirst and the fatigue. What was causing them?

    It was already noon, and he realized he was hungry. A quick look in the refrigerator told him there wasn't much there. He put on his coat and went out. It was a nice day. As he walked to the center of town, he looked at the properties for sale in the windows of three separate real estate offices. He realized that the price Robert Åkerblom had suggested was fair. They could hardly get more than 300,000 kronor for the house in Löderup.

    He stopped at a fast-food kiosk and ate a hamburger. He also drank two bottles of mineral water. Then he went into a shoe store where he knew the owner and used the bathroom. When he came back out onto the street, he felt unsure of what to do next. He should have used his day off to go shopping. He had no food in the house. But right now he didn't have the energy to go back for the car and drive to a supermarket. After Hamngatan, he crossed the train tracks and turned down Spanienfararegatan. When he arrived down at the waterfront, he strolled along a pier and looked at all the sailboats. He wondered what it would be like to sail. It was something he had absolutely no experience with at all. Then he realized he needed to urinate again. He used the rest room at the harbor café, drank another bottle of mineral water, and sat down on a bench outside the red Coast Guard building.

    The last time he had been here it had been winter, the night Baiba left.

    He had taken her to Sturup Airport and it was already dark. The wind made whirls of snow dance in the headlights. They hadn't said a word. After he watched her disappear past the checkpoint, he returned to Ystad and went to sit on this bench. The wind had been very cold and he was freezing, but he sat here and realized that everything was over. He wouldn't see Baiba again. The breakup was final.


She came to Ystad in December of 1994. His father had just died and he had just finished one of the most challenging investigations of his career. But that fall he had also, for the first time in many years, been making plans for the future. He decided to leave Mariagatan, move to the country, and get a dog. He even visited a kennel and looked at Labrador puppies. He was going to make a fresh start. And above all, he wanted Baiba to move in with him. She visited him over Christmas and Wallander could tell that she and Linda got along well. Then, on New Year's Eve 1995, the last few days before she was due to return to Riga, they talked seriously about the future. Maybe she would move to Sweden for good as early as next summer. They went to look at houses together. They looked at a house on a subdivision of an old farm outside Svenstorp several times. But then, one evening in March, when Wallander was already in bed, she called from Riga and told him she was having doubts. She didn't want to get married, didn't want to move to Sweden—at least not yet. He thought he would be able to get her to change her mind. The conversation ended with an unpleasant and drawn-out quarrel, their first. Afterward they didn't speak for over a month. Finally, Wallander called her and they decided he would go to Riga that summer. They spent two weeks by the sea in a run-down old house that she had borrowed from one of her colleagues at the university. They took long walks on the beach and Wallander made a point of waiting for her to broach the question of the future. But when she finally did, she was vague and noncommittal. Not now, not yet. Why couldn't things stay as they were? When Wallander returned to Sweden, he felt dejected and was still unsure of where things stood. The fall had gone by without another meeting. They had talked about it, made plans, and considered various alternatives. But nothing had come of it. It was also during this period that Wallander became jealous. Was there another man in Riga? Someone he didn't know anything about? On several occasions he called her in the middle of the night and although she always insisted that she was alone, he had the distinct feeling that there had been someone else in her apartment.

    She had come to Ystad for Christmas that year. Linda had not been with them except on Christmas Eve, before leaving for Scotland with friends. And it was then, a couple of days into the new year, that Baiba had told him she could never move to Sweden. She had gone back and forth for a long time. But now she knew. She didn't want to lose her position at the university. What could she do in Sweden, especially Ystad? She could perhaps become an interpreter. But what else could she do? Wallander tried to persuade her to change her mind, but he didn't succeed and was forced to give up. Without saying anything explicitly, they both knew it was over. After four years there was no longer any road leading into the future. Wallander took her to Sturup, watched her disappear beyond the checkpoint, and spent the rest of that winter evening on the frozen bench outside the Coast Guard headquarters. He had been downcast and felt more abandoned than ever before. But then another feeling had crept over him. Relief. After all, now he knew where things stood.

    A motorboat sped out of the harbor. Wallander got up. He needed to find a bathroom again.

    They called each other from time to time. But then that had stopped too. Now they hadn't been in touch for over six months. One day when he and Linda were walking around Visby she had asked if things with Baiba were finally over.

    "Yes," he replied. "It's over."

    She waited for him to continue.

    "I don't think either of us really wanted to break it off," he told her. "But it was inevitable."


When he got home, he lay down on the sofa to read the paper but fell asleep almost immediately. An hour later he woke up with a start in the middle of a dream.

    He had been in Rome with his father. Rydberg had also been with them, as well as some small, dwarflike creatures who insisted on pinching their legs.

    Wallander paused on the sofa.

    I'm dreaming about the dead, he thought. What does that mean? I dream about my father almost every night and he's dead. So is Rydber, my old colleague and friend. The one who taught me everything I can even claim to know. And he's been gone for almost five years.

    He went out onto the balcony. It was still warm and calm. Clouds were starting to pile up on the horizon.

    Suddenly it struck him how terribly lonely he was. Apart from Linda, who lived in Stockholm and whom he saw only occasionally, he had almost no friends. The people he spent time with were people from work. And he never saw them socially.

    He went into the bathroom and rinsed off his face. He looked in the mirror and saw that he had a tan, but the tiredness still shone through. His left eye was bloodshot. His hairline had receded further.

    He stepped on the scale. He weighed a couple of kilos less than at the start of the summer, but it was still too much.

    The phone rang and he answered. It was Gertrud.

    "I just wanted to let you know that I made it safely to Rynge. Everything went well."

    "I've been thinking about you," Wallander told her. "I should have stayed there with you."

    "I think I needed to be alone with all my memories. But things will be fine here. My sister and I get along well. We always have."

    "I'll be out to see you in about a week."

    After the end of their conversation, the phone rang again immediately. This time it was his colleague Ann-Britt Höglund.

    "I just wanted to hear how it went," she said,

    "How what went?"

    "Weren't you supposed to meet with a real estate agent today? About selling your father's house?"

    Wallander recalled that he had exchanged a few words with her on the subject the day before.

    "It went pretty well," he said. "You can buy it for three hundred thousand kronor if you like."

    "I never even got to see it," she replied.

    "It feels quite strange," he told her. "The house is so empty now. Getrud has moved and someone else will buy it. It'll probably be used as a summer house. Other people will live in it and not know anything about my dad."

(Continues...)


Excerpted from One Step Behind by Henning Mankell. Copyright © 1997 by Henning Mankell. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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Table of Contents

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Introduction

“Lyrical, meticulous, and stunningly suspenseful.” —St. Petersburg Times

The introduction, discussion questions, author biography, and suggested reading list that follow are designed to enhance your group’s reading of Swedish novelist Henning Mankell’s most chilling Kurt Wallander mystery, One Step Behind.

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Foreword

1. One Step Behind begins with Inspector Kurt Wallander nearly being killed in a car accident after falling asleep at the wheel. What tone does this near-death experience set for the novel? What role does Wallander’s fatigue play in the events that follow?

2. Early in the novel, Wallander thinks of his colleagues: “They don’t know much about me and I don’t know much about them. We work together, maybe over the course of an entire career, and what do we learn about each other? Nothing” [p. 29]. In what ways can the novel be read as a meditation on the limits of human knowledge? Where else in the story does this lack of knowledge play a significant role?

3. In trying to fathom the murderer’s mindset, Wallander thinks, “I’ve never believed in pure evil. There are no evil people, no one with brutality in their genes. There are evil circumstances and environments, not evil per se. But here I sense the actions of a truly darkened mind” [p. 162]. Is he correct in thinking that brutal behavior is a result of one’s environment rather than of one’s character? What motivates the killer in One Step Behind to commit his crimes?

4. Wallander is often “struck by the feeling that something [isn’t] quite right” [p. 65]. To what extent does he rely on feeling and intuition to guide him in solving the mystery in One Step Behind?

5. At various points throughout the novel, and especially after Isa is murdered, Wallander is accused of botching the investigation. Are the criticisms brought against him justified? What mistakes does he make? Should he have been able to foreseehis errors?

6. Wallander is an unusually disheveled kind of detective. Far from being a self-confident tough-guy, he’s forgetful, full of self-doubt, in poor health, prone to mistakes, and perpetually exhausted. Why do these characteristics tend to make him a more, rather than less, appealing protagonist? What would the novel lose if Wallander were more conventionally competent? What qualities make him a forceful figure, despite these weaknesses?

7. Wallander observes that there was a similarity between his murdered colleague Svedberg and the young people killed in the nature preserve: “They had all had secrets” [p. 210]. Who else in the novel has a secret? In what way is the novel really about keeping and uncovering secrets?

8. Martinsson observes that the killer “always manages to stay one step ahead of us and one step behind at the same time” [p. 394]. How does Mankell keep the reader also one step ahead and one step behind the actions of the murderer? Why does Mankell often allow the reader to know more than the detectives? What kind of suspense does this knowledge create?

9. Late in the novel, as Wallander and the other detectives come close to despair, Martinsson argues that the killer has no motive, that he kills simply “for the sake of killing.” When Wallander disagrees, Martinsson says, “Until a few years ago, I would have agreed with you: there’s an explanation for all violence. But that just isn’t the case any more” [p. 331]. Does this particular killer have an understandable motive? Or is he right in suggesting that violence in our time is increasingly senseless?

10. How is Wallander able to solve this mystery? What are the major turning points in his investigation? What qualities of character and intelligence enable Wallander to apprehend the killer?

11. What picture of Swedish society emerges from One Step Behind? How do the novel’s minor characters—Isa Edengren and her wealthy parents, the bank director Bror Sundelius, Svedberg’s cousin Sture Bjorklund, the mailman Westin, and others—contribute to the overall social reality of the novel? Are Martinsson and Wallander right in thinking that Swedish society is unraveling?

12. One Step Behind is preceded by an epigraph from the Second Law of Thermodynamics: “There are always more disordered than ordered systems” [p. vii]. And Wallander thinks to himself, “reality was rarely reasonable” [p. 98]. How is this disordered sense of reality conveyed in the novel? Which plays a greater role in solving the murder mystery in the novel: the use of reason or the reliance on spontaneous, irrational hunches?

13. Of the gawkers who come to look at a crime scene, Wallander says, “They probably get a thrill from being in the presence of the unthinkable. . . . Knowing that they themselves are safe” [p. 315]. Is this, at least in part, the reason why people read thrillers?

14. How does One Step Behind differ from American thrillers? What qualities distinguish the novel, and its hero, Kurt Wallander, as distinctly European?

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Reading Group Guide

“Lyrical, meticulous, and stunningly suspenseful.” —St. Petersburg Times

The introduction, discussion questions, author biography, and suggested reading list that follow are designed to enhance your group’s reading of Swedish novelist Henning Mankell’s most chilling Kurt Wallander mystery, One Step Behind.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2009

    Great read--until the end...

    Mankell is an intelligent writer who knows how to combine the detail of a police procedural with the drama of a thriller. His insights into present-day Sweden are particularly informative (if dismaying). I'm about to start his eighth book in the Wallander series, and can't wait for his newest effort to be published in English.

    But I do have an issue with Mr. Mankell. Reading his Wallander series is an enjoyable experience for mystery buffs, especially those who like police procedurals. What takes the edge off these experiences, however, is the way in which Mankell wraps up the stories--i.e., the apprehension of the culprit. Starting with his second effort, "The Dogs of Riga," Mankell turns Wallander into a James Bond-like character at the end of these books. After writing 400 pages of totally believable narrative about good police work, Mankell throws it all away and turns Wallander into a superhero. In "One Step Behind," Wallander locks his gun in his desk and forgets his cell phone in his office while a psychotic killer is on the loose. Of course, this enables him to capture his target unarmed and without backup, but the final scenario is without credibility--especially compared to the believability of the rest of the book.

    Not sure why Mankell felt obliged to deviate from the realism of 400 pages and switch to a Hollywood-type ending in the last 25 or 30, but it does take the edge off an otherwise extremely enjoyable reading experience.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2006

    Two thumbs up for Mankell

    One Step Behind was the first Mankell I've read, but is will not be the last. His protagonist, Kurt Wallander, is a believable and flawed character which makes the process of solving the mystery all the more realistic. A great psychological thriller.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2005

    Another Brilliant thriller by Mankell!

    You just can't put this one down. For fans of Ruth Rendell and PD James, Henning Mankell is their Swedish equivalent. Buy this one immediately!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    strong Swedish police procedural

    On Midsummer's Eve 1996, the three twentyish friends garbed in period piece costumes celebrate the holiday in the woods that is near the midpoint between their homes until someone kills the trio. Swedish Inspector Kurt Wallander just returned from vacation worries about what diabetes is doing to his health, but the shootings take precedent over his personal pity. Though the illness seems to tire him, he contends with the demands from the media, brass, and politicians to solve the case yesterday. Adding to Kurt¿s pressure is the murder of a fellow officer Svedberg with half the man¿s head blow to bits. Kurt digs deeply into the personal life of Svedberg, uncovering things he can not fathom with what he knew of his peer. As he realizes that the cases tie together and a serial killer haunts the south of Sweden, Kurt and his team constantly fails to stop an adept killing machine. ONE STEP BEYOND is not a rehash of the scripts from the TV show, but instead is a terrific English translation of a strong Swedish police procedural. Though at times the interpretation seems off, the story line provides the audience with a delightful investigation and a deep look at the aging protagonist as he struggles with health problems. The sleuthing makes for a wonderful time for those readers who relish international flavor to their law enforcement stories. However, the key to this novel is the hero, a tired person who pushes to perform his duty. The genre audience has the treat of six other Wallander cases will also be translated and published over the next two years. Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 13, 2013

    exceptional

    exceptional

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2011

    These books are the best!

    I had never read a Mankell "Kurt Wallander" book before but now can't wait to read them all! This book got my interest right away and I really couldn't put it down. Wallander is a down to earth, smart detective, and I look forward to reading many more of his adventures.

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  • Posted August 24, 2011

    Veryyyyyy good!

    Exelent book

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  • Posted December 9, 2009

    outstanding mystery novel

    This is possibly the best Wallander mystery, and that's saying something. Mankell is at the top of his Ystad game here.

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