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Faceless Killers (Kurt Wallander Series #1)

Faceless Killers (Kurt Wallander Series #1)

by Henning Mankell


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The mystery thriller series that inspired the Netflix crime drama Young Wallander

From the dean of Scandinavian noir, the first riveting installment in the internationally bestselling and universally acclaimed Kurt Wallander series.

It was a senselessly violent crime: on a cold night in a remote Swedish farmhouse an elderly farmer is bludgeoned to death, and his wife is left to die with a noose around her neck. And as if this didn’t present enough problems for the Ystad police Inspector Kurt Wallander, the dying woman’s last word is foreign, leaving the police the one tangible clue they have–and in the process, the match that could inflame Sweden’s already smoldering anti-immigrant sentiments.

Unlike the situation with his ex-wife, his estranged daughter, or the beautiful but married young prosecuter who has peaked his interest, in this case, Wallander finds a problem he can handle. He quickly becomes obsessed with solving the crime before the already tense situation explodes, but soon comes to realize that it will require all his reserves of energy and dedication to solve.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400031573
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/14/2003
Series: Kurt Wallander Series , #1
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 95,432
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Henning Mankell is the internatinally acclaimed, bestselling author of the Kurt Wallander novels.  Mankell's novels have been translated into forty-five languages and have sold more than forty million copies worldwide. He was the first winner of the Ripper Award and also received the Glass Key and the Crime Writers’ Association Golden Dagger, among other awards. His Kurt Wallander mysteries have been adapted into a PBS television series starring Kenneth Branagh. During his life, Mankell divided his time between Sweden and Mozambique, where he was artistic director of the Teatro Avenida in Maputo. He died in 2015.


Mozambique, Africa

Date of Birth:

February 3, 1948

Place of Birth:

Stockholm, Sweden


Folkskolan Elementary Shool, Sveg; Högre Allmäna Läroverket, Borås

Read an Excerpt


He has forgotten something, he knows that for sure when he wakes up. Something he dreamed during the night. Something he ought to remember.

He tries to remember. But sleep is like a black hole. A well that reveals nothing of its contents.

At least I didn't dream about the bulls, he thinks. Then I would have been all sweaty, as if I had suffered through a fever during the night. This time the bulls left me in peace.

He lies still in the darkness and listens. His wife's breathing at his side is so faint that he can hardly hear it.

One of these mornings she'll be lying dead beside me and I won't even notice, he thinks. Or maybe it'll be me. One of us will die before the other. Daybreak will reveal that one of us has been left all alone.

He looks at the clock on the table next to the bed. The hands glow and point at quarter to five.

Why did I wake up? he thinks. I usually sleep till five thirty. I've done that for over forty years. Why am I waking up now?

He listens to the darkness and suddenly he is wide awake.

Something is different. Something is no longer the way it usually is.

Carefully he gropes with one hand until he touches his wife's face. With his fingertips he can feel that she's warm. So she's not the one who died. Neither of them has been left alone yet.

He listens to the darkness.

The horse, he thinks. She's not neighing. That's why I woke up. The mare usually whinnies at night. I hear it without waking up, and in my subconscious I know that I can keep on sleeping.

Carefully he gets out of the creaky bed. For forty years they've owned it. It was the only piece of furniture they bought when they got married. It's also the only bed they'll ever have in their lives.

He can feel his left knee aching as he walks across the wooden floor to the window.

I'm old, he thinks. Old and used up. Every morning when I wake up I'm surprised all over again that I'm seventy years old.

He looks out into the winter night. It's the eighth of January, 1990, and no snow has fallen in Skåne this winter. The lamp outside the kitchen door casts its glow across the yard, the bare chestnut tree, and the fields beyond. He squints his eyes toward the neighboring farm where the Lövgrens live. The long, low white house is dark. The stable in the corner against the farmhouse has a pale yellow lamp above the black stable door. That's where the mare stands in her stall, and that's where she suddenly whinnies uneasily at night.

He listens to the darkness.

The bed creaks behind him.

"What are you doing?" mutters his wife.

"Go back to sleep," he replies. "I'm just stretching my legs."

"Is your knee hurting again?"


"Then come back to bed. Don't stand there freezing, you'll catch cold."

He hears her turn over onto her side.

Once we loved each other, he thinks. But he shields himself from his own thought. That's too noble a word. Love. It's not for the likes of us. Someone who has been a farmer for over forty years, who has stood bowed over the heavy Scanian clay, and does not use the word "love" when he talks about his wife. In our lives, love has always been something totally different.

He looks at the neighbor's house, squinting, trying to penetrate the darkness of the winter night.

Whinny, he thinks. Whinny in your stall so I know that everything's normal. So I can lie down under the quilt for a little while longer. A retired crippled farmer's day is long and dreary enough as it is.

Suddenly he realizes that he's looking at the kitchen window of the neighbor's house. Something is different. All these years he has cast an occasional glance at his neighbor's window. Now something suddenly looks different. Or is it just the darkness that's confusing him? He blinks and counts to twenty to rest his eyes. Then he looks at the window again, and now he's sure that it's open. A window that has always been closed at night is suddenly open. And the mare hasn't whinnied at all.

The mare hasn't whinnied because Lövgren hasn't taken his usual nightly walk to the stable when his prostate acts up and drives him out of his warm bed.

I'm just imagining things, he says to himself. My eyes are cloudy. Everything is the same as usual. After all, what could happen here? In the little town of Lenarp, just north of Kade Lake, on the way to beautiful Krageholm Lake, right in the heart of Skåne? Nothing ever happens here. Time stands still in this little town where life flows along like a creek with no vigor or intent. The only people who live here are a few old farmers who have sold or leased out their land to someone else. We live here and wait for the inevitable.

He looks at the kitchen window again, and he thinks that neither Maria nor Johannes Lövgren would forget to close it. With age a sense of dread comes sneaking in; there are more and more locks, and no one forgets to close a window before nightfall. To grow old is to live in fear. The dread of something menacing that you felt when you were a child returns when you get old.

I could get dressed and go out, he thinks. Hobble through the yard with the winter wind on my face, up to the fence that divides our property. I could see with my own eyes that I'm just imagining things.

But he decides to stay put. Soon Johannes will be getting out of bed to make coffee. First he'll turn on the light in the bathroom, then the light in the kitchen. Everything will be the way it always is.

He stands by the window and realizes that he's freezing. The cold of old age that comes creeping in, even in the warmest room. He thinks about Maria and Johannes. We've had a marriage with them too, he thinks, as neighbors and as farmers. We've helped each other, shared the hardships and the bad years. But we've shared the good times too. Together we've celebrated Midsummer and eaten Christmas dinner. Our children ran back and forth between the two farms as if they belonged to both. And now we're sharing the long-drawn-out years of old age.

Without knowing why, he opens the window, carefully so as not to wake Hanna. He holds on tight to the latch so that the gusty winter wind won't tear it out of his hand. But the night is completely calm, and he recalls that the weather report on the radio had said nothing about any storm approaching over the Scanian plain.

The starry sky is clear, and it is very cold. He is just about to close the window again when he thinks he hears a sound. He listens and turns, with his left ear toward the open window. His good ear, not his bad right ear that was injured by all the time he spent cooped up in stuffy, rumbling tractors.

A bird, he thinks. A night bird calling.

Suddenly he is afraid. Out of nowhere the fear appears and seizes him.

It sounds like somebody shouting. In despair, trying to make someone else hear.

A voice that knows it has to penetrate through thick stone walls to catch the attention of the neighbors.

I'm imagining things, he thinks again. There's nobody shouting. Who would it be?

He closes the window so hard that it makes a flowerpot jump, and Hanna wakes up.

"What are you doing?" she says, and he can hear that she's annoyed.

As he replies, he suddenly feels sure.

The terror is real.

"The mare isn't whinnying," he says, sitting down on the edge of the bed. "And the Lövgrens' kitchen window is wide open. And someone is shouting."

She sits up in bed.

"What did you say?"

He doesn't want to answer, but now he's sure that it wasn't a bird he heard.

"It's Johannes or Maria," he says. "One of them is calling for help."

She gets out of bed and goes over to the window. Big and wide, she stands there in her white nightgown and looks out into the dark.

"The kitchen window isn't open," she whispers. "It's smashed."

He goes over to her, and now he's so cold that he's shaking.

"There's someone shouting for help," she says, and her voice quavers.

"What should we do?"

"Go over there," she says. "Hurry up!"

"But what if it's dangerous?"

"Aren't we going to help our best friends if something has happened?"

He dresses quickly, takes the flashlight from the kitchen cupboard next to the corks and coffee cans.

The clay outside is frozen under his feet. When he turns around he catches a glimpse of Hanna in the window.

Up by the fence he stops. Everything is quiet. Now he can see that the kitchen window is broken. Cautiously he climbs over the low fence and approaches the white house. But no voice calls to him.

I'm just imagining things, he thinks again. I'm an old man who can't figure out what's really happening anymore. Maybe I even dreamed about the bulls last night. The old dream about the bulls charging toward me when I was a boy and making me realize that someday I would die.

Then he hears the cry again. It's weak, like a moan. It's Maria.

He goes over to the bedroom window and peeks in cautiously through the gap between the curtain and the window frame.

Suddenly he knows that Johannes is dead. He shines his flashlight inside and blinks hard before he forces himself to look.

Maria is crumpled up on the floor, tied to a chair. Her face is bloody and her false teeth lie broken on her spattered nightgown.

Then he sees one of Johannes's feet. All he can see is his foot. The rest of his body is hidden by the curtain.

He limps back and climbs over the fence again. His knee aches as he desperately stumbles across the frozen clay.

First he calls the police.

Then he takes his crowbar out of a closet that smells like mothballs.

"Wait here," he tells Hanna. "You don't need to see this."

"What happened?" she asks with tears of fear in her eyes.

"I don't know," he says. "But I woke up because the mare wasn't neighing in the night. I know that for sure."

It is the eighth of January, 1990.

Not yet dawn.


The incoming telephone call was recorded by the Ystad police at 5:13 AM. It was taken by an exhausted officer who had been on duty almost without a break since New Year's Eve. He had listened to the stammering voice on the phone and thought that it was just some deranged senior citizen. But something had sparked his attention nevertheless. He started asking questions. When the conversation was over, he hesitated for just a moment before lifting the receiver again and dialing a number he knew by heart.

Kurt Wallander was asleep. He had stayed up far too long the night before, listening to recordings of Maria Callas that a good friend had sent him from Bulgaria. Again and again he had returned to her Traviata, and it was close to two AM before he finally went to bed. By the time the ring of the telephone roused him from sleep, he was deep in an intense erotic dream. As if to assure himself that he had only been dreaming, he reached out and felt the covers next to him. But he was alone in the bed. Neither his wife, who had left him three months earlier, nor the black woman with whom he had just been making fierce love in his dream, was present.

He looked at the clock as he reached for the phone. A car crash, he thought instantly. Treacherous ice and someone driving too fast and then spinning off E14. Or trouble with refugees arriving on the morning ferry from Poland.

He scooted up in bed and pressed the receiver to his cheek, feeling the sting of his unshaven skin.


"I hope I didn't wake you."

"No, damn it. I'm awake."

Why do I lie? he thought. Why don't I just say it like it is? That all I want is to go back to sleep and recapture a fleeting dream in the form of a naked woman.

"I thought I should call you."

"Traffic accident?"

"No, not exactly. An old farmer called and said his name was Nyström. Lives in Lenarp. He claimed that the woman next door was tied up on the floor and that someone was dead."

Wallander thought quickly about where Lenarp was located. Not so far from Marsvinsholm, in a region that was unusually hilly for Skåne.

"It sounded serious. I thought it best to call you at home."

"Who have you got at the station right now?"

"Peters and Norén are out looking for someone who broke a window at the Continental. Shall I call them?"

"Tell them to drive out to the crossroads between Kade Lake and Katslösa and wait there till I show up. Give them the address. When did the call come in?"

"A few minutes ago."

"Sure it wasn't just some drunk calling?"

"Didn't sound like it."

"Huh. All right then."

Wallander dressed quickly without showering, poured himself a cup of the lukewarm coffee that was still in the thermos, and looked out the window. He lived on Mariagatan in central Ystad, and the façade of the building across from him was cracked and gray. He wondered fleetingly whether there would be any snow in Skåne this winter. He hoped not. Scanian snowstorms always brought periods of uninterrupted drudgery. Car wrecks, snowbound women going into labor, isolated old people, and downed power lines. With the snowstorms came chaos, and he felt ill equipped to meet the chaos this winter. The anxiety of his wife leaving him still burned inside him.

He drove down Regementsgatan until he came out on Osterleden. At Dragongatan he was stopped by a red light, and he turned on the car radio to listen to the news. An excited voice was talking about a plane that had crashed on some far-off continent.

A time to live and a time to die, he thought as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He had adopted this incantation many years ago. Back then he was a young policeman cruising the streets in his home town of Malmö. A drunk had suddenly pulled out a big butcher knife as he and his partner were trying to take him away in the squad car from Pildamm Park. Wallander was stabbed deep, right next to his heart. A few millimeters were all that saved him from an unexpected death. He had been twenty-three then, suddenly profoundly aware of what it meant to be a cop. The incantation was his way of fending off the memories.

He drove out of the city, passing the newly built furniture warehouse at the edge of town, and caught a glimpse of the sea in the distance. It was gray but oddly quiet for the middle of the Scanian winter. Far off toward the horizon there was the silhouette of a ship heading east.

The snowstorms are on their way, he thought.

Sooner or later they'll be upon us.

He shut off the car radio and tried to concentrate on what was in store for him.

What did he know, really?

An old woman, tied up on the floor? A man who claimed he saw her through a window? Wallander sped up after he passed the turnoff to Bjäre Lake and thought that it was undoubtedly an old man who was struck by a sudden flare-up of senility. In his many years on the force he had seen more than once how old, isolated people would call the police as a desperate cry for help.

The squad car was waiting for him at the side road toward Kade Lake. Peters had climbed out and was watching a hare bounding back and forth out in a field.

When he saw Wallander approaching in his blue Peugeot, he raised his hand in greeting and got in behind the wheel.

The frozen gravel crunched under the car tires. Kurt Wallander followed the police car. They passed the turnoff toward Trunnerup and continued up some steep hills until they came to Lenarp. They swung onto a narrow dirt road that was hardly more than a tractor rut. After a kilometer they were there. Two farms next to each other, two whitewashed farmhouses, and carefully tended gardens.

An elderly man came hurrying toward them. Wallander saw that he was limping, as if one knee was bothering him.

When Wallander got out of the car he noticed that the wind had started to blow. Maybe the snow was on the way after all.

As soon as he saw the old man he knew that something truly unpleasant awaited him. In the man's eyes shone a horror that could not be imaginary.

"I broke open the door," he repeated feverishly, over and over. "I broke open the door because I had to see. But she'll be dead soon too."

They went in through the broken door. Wallander was met by a pungent old-man smell. The wallpaper was old-fashioned, and he was forced to squint to be able to see anything in the dim light.

"So what happened here?" he asked.

"In there," replied the old man.

Then he started to cry.

The three policemen looked at each other.

Wallander pushed open the door with one foot.

It was worse than he had imagined. Much worse. Later he would say that it was the worst he had ever seen. And he had seen plenty.

The old couple's bedroom was soaked in blood. It had even splashed onto the porcelain lamp hanging from the ceiling. Prostrate across the bed lay an old man with no shirt on and his long underwear pulled down. His face was crushed beyond recognition. It looked as though someone had tried to cut off his nose. His hands were tied behind his back and his left thigh was shattered. The white bone shone against all that red.

"Oh shit," he heard Norén moan behind him, and Wallander felt nauseated himself.

"Ambulance," he said, swallowing. "Hurry up."


Excerpted from "Faceless Killers"
by .
Copyright © 1991 Henning Mankell.
Excerpted by permission of The New Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

“An exquisite novel of mesmerizing depth and suspense.” —Los Angeles 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 brilliant mystery, Faceless Killers.

1. In what ways is Faceless Killers surprising? What is unusual about its crimes and the manner in which they are solved? Why would Henning Mankell choose to make the novel about two apparently disconnected crimes, one motivated by greed and another by racial hatred? How do you think the refugees are portrayed? And why?

2. Rydberg describes the crime scene as being so grisly it was “like an American movie” [p. 21]. What does this comment suggest about the relationship between representations of violence for purposes of entertainment and real violence? What does it suggest about the differences between Sweden and America?

3. In what ways do the setting, an isolated area of rural Sweden, and the story’s first victims, an elderly couple, make the murders seem especially horrifying?

4. Before a press conference, Wallander has an attack of self-doubt. “I’m searching for the slayers of the dead,” he says, “and can’t even pay attention to the living” [p. 97]. What aspects of his life is he neglecting? Why does Henning Mankell devote so much of the novel to Wallander’s personal life: his strained relationships with his father, his daughter, and his soon to be ex-wife? What does this personal dimension add to the novel?

5. Wallander wonders why “almost every policeman was divorced. Why their wives left them. Sometimes, when he read a crime novel, he discovered with a sigh things were just as bad in fiction. Policemen were divorced. That’s all there was to it” [p. 27]. What is it about being a cop that would make marriage unsustainable? How does Wallander feel about his estranged wife? What do their interactions reveal about why the marriage failed?

6. Within moments of meeting Ellen Magnusson, Wallander suddenly realizes that she is “the mystery woman with whom Johannes Lövgren had had a child. Wallander knew it without knowing how he knew” [p. 248]. To what extent is this kind of intuition responsible for solving crimes in Faceless Killers? Where else does a hunch or sudden insight play a role in leading the detectives in the right direction? How does it help him solve the murder of the Somali refugee?

7. Confronted by a case he cannot solve, Wallander is plunged into an existential crisis: “Somewhere in the dark a vast meaninglessness was beckoning. A sneering face that laughed scornfully at every attempt he made to manage his life” [p. 80]. In what way is Faceless Killers, and perhaps every mystery novel, about the need to assign meaning to a world that can appear random, chaotic, and meaningless? How does solving a crime restore, if only briefly, order to the world?

8. Much of Faceless Killers is concerned with the controversies surrounding refugees, asylum-seekers, and open borders in Sweden. What is Wallander’s attitude toward these issues? What does the novel, as a whole, seem to suggest about the tensions between Sweden’s liberal immigration policies and its growing racial tensions? How do Wallander’s erotic dreams about a black woman, and his daughter’s relationship with a black man, fit into this context?

9. What specifics does the novel reveal about how police investigations are conducted? About the strained relations between the police, the press, and the government? About the connection between sudden insight and the dogged search for clues?

10. How important is Wallander’s relationship with Rydberg? What does Rydberg add both to the investigation and to the novel?

11. Wallander finds himself frequently knocked to the ground during the course of his investigations, nearly loses his job, gets slapped in the face, and refers to himself as both a “dubious cop” and a “pathetic cop.” When a fellow officer calls him “the hero of the day,” Wallander replies: “Piss off” [p. 107]. Is Wallander a hero? If so, how do his flaws and foibles fit into his heroism?

12. Looking back over the investigation with Rydberg, Wallander says, “I made a lot of mistakes,” to which his partner replies, “You’re a good policeman. . . . You never gave up. You wanted to catch whoever committed those murders in Lunnarp. That’s the important thing” [p. 279]. What were Wallander’s mistakes? Why did he make them? Is Rydberg right in suggesting that perseverance and will are more important than perfect police work?

13. At the very end of Faceless Killers, as Kurt Wallander reflects on the “senseless violence” he has seen, he thinks about “the new era, which demanded a different kind of policeman. We’re living in the age of the noose. . . . Fear will be on the rise” [p. 280]. What does Wallander mean by “the age of the noose”? What changes and new fears does he envision? Have these fears been validated by the events of the decade since the book was first published?

14. Most Americans have a rather idyllic view of life in Sweden. In what ways does Faceless Killers contradict that view? Is it disconcerting to learn that Sweden suffers many of the same problems—drugs, crime, racism—that beset the United States?

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