Kurt Wallander as Fool and Trickster
Throughout the series
of crime novels in which he plays the central role, Kurt Wallander
functions as a bungling, awkward character—a fool in spite of the
fact that he is also a hard worker, brilliant reasoner and intuitive
genius who solves crimes. In his personal life, Wallander sees himself
as a buffoon, constantly lamenting his inability to control his
weight, drinking, depressive moods or impulsive actions. When he’s
working a case, he continually finds he doesn’t have a pen or paper
to take notes and discovers his car
is out of gas or can’t start when he needs it. In the first novel in
which he appears, he gets drunk and embarrasses himself by trying to
seduce the female prosecutor who keeps urging him to leave her home (Faceless,
214-16). In another book, Wallander is photographed apparently
hitting a young girl; actually, he is trying to stop the girl from
attacking her mother. But the awkwardness of the situation and the
subsequent investigation is typical of Wallander's clumsiness (Firewall
49). In the latest novel in which he appears, Wallander’s
daughter tells him “All those extra pounds scream out how lonely you
are—you might as well hang a sign around your neck saying ‘I need
to get laid’” (Before the
In a total of nine crime novels, Wallander plays the
“fool,” struggling with his own body, behavior, and the
difficulties of modern society.
element of the trickster figure—perpetrating tricks and
deception—is noticeably absent from Wallander’s general behavior,
with one outstanding exception. Swedish policemen are not supposed to
lie, but even the most ethical sometimes do. In
The Man Who Smiled, Wallander
deliberately conceals information in order to escape interference from
an official (256). In the
same book, he agrees to forge a document to get information, but is
saved from fulfilling the bargain because the informant is killed
The second book of the
Wallander series, The Dogs of
Riga, provides him with the opportunity to play a trickster role
that departs greatly from his code of behavior
as a Swedish policeman. He
is persuaded to assume a false identity in order to conduct an
investigation in a Soviet Bloc country—
. There he hopes to find documents hidden by Major Liepa, a Latvian
official who came to
to help solve a crime. Wallander is smuggled into
using a false name and passport, complaining internally through out
the entire adventure. Needless to say, there is a woman in
who is the chief enticement.
often involves deception in many cultures and even occasionally in
. In The
Man Who Smiled Wallander must investigate and catch a powerful and
wealthy man who runs international business networks which are
deliberately set up to hide their true nature and complexity.
Wallander must find a way “ to talk to eleven secretaries”
without the villain noticing he is looking for serous criminal
behavior. Throughout the
investigation, he has to appear to be doing “the opposite” of what
he is actually doing (172). But this sort of trickery and deception
deviates from Wallander’s normally transparent pursuit of criminals.
Criminals as Deceiver/ Tricksters
Given the desire of criminals to successfully steal, cheat, and
kill, the majority of the Wallander crime novels present criminals who
use trickery to achieve success, to escape punishment, or simply to
enjoy the game of deceiving the police.
In The Dogs of Riga
we don’t know until the conclusion which Latvian official (Muniers
or Putnis) is the good guy and which is the evil murderer and
betrayer. In The
White Lioness a conspirator planning an assignation creates a
false diary to mislead investigators in
. False trails are laid through postcards in both The Man Who Smiled and One
Step Behind (Man 51, One,
31). In Sidetracked,
a former Minister of
Justice is proud of his skill at deception; when interviewed by a
journalist, “he hadn’t said a single thing that was true during
the entire interview” (14).
Fifth Woman contains three victims of crime whose own hidden
crimes are belied by their innocent-looking public lives: an elderly
bird watcher and poet; a florist who studies and writes about orchids;
a university researcher who works on milk and food allergies.
The most powerful
trickster figures in Mankell’s novels believe in their own powers of
transformation; they create rituals and disguises that they believe
produce actual new identities. In
their own eyes, they are literal shapeshifters. In Sidetracked
and The Fifth Woman, the
trickster characters believe that they have the right to kill because
they are avenging crimes against innocent females.
murderer in Sidetracked, a fourteen-year old boy whose real name is Stefan
Fredman, believes he transforms himself into a combination of Geronimo
and J. Edgar Hoover. He changes the mould for making miniature
soldiers, creating a new figure that “was both a policeman and an
Indian.” In a
ceremony of transformation, “he created his own new identity…a
feared policeman with the courage of an American Indian warrior”
(102-3). Once transformed,
/ Geronimo knows that “he would be indestructible. Nothing would
prevent him from seeking vengeance” (103).
boy paints his face and plays drum music in ritual ceremonies,
creating his transformation into Hoover/Geronimo:
first strokes on his forehead had to be black. It was as if he were
slicing two deep cuts, opening his brain and emptying the memories and
thought that had haunted him all his life, tormenting and humiliating
him. Then the red and white stripes, the circles, the squares, and at
last the snake-like design on his cheeks. None of his white skin
should be visible. Then the transformation would be complete. What was
inside him would be gone. He would be born again in the guise of an
animal, and he would never speak as a human being again. He would cut
out his tongue if he had to. (12)
pursues a “mission” of vengeance because of the sexual abuse his
sister suffered, abuse which led to her breakdown and confinement in a
mental hospital. After killing his victims with an axe, he scalps them
and buries the scalps outside near her hospital room. His goal is to
bring his sister back from “the darkness.”
The men he kills are “monsters.”
At their death, the spirits speak inside him and exult in the
the form of
/ Geronimo, Stefan knocks his father unconscious, ties him to a wooden
dock with arms and legs spread out and waits for his father to revive
so he will know he is being killed by his own son: Stefan “no longer
saw a human being before him. His father had undergone the
transformation he had planned for him. He was an animal…a beast
thrashing back and forth in his death throes” (192).
After blinding his
father with hydrochloric acid, Stefan/Hoover/ Geronimo scalps him.
Raising the scalp to the night sky, he cuts off the top of “the
animal’s head” and then smashes the skull so forcefully the blade
of the axe sticks into the wood of the dock. Stefan believes this
murder will bring his sister out of the darkness and “back to
life” (193). Of course,
the latter mission is never accomplished.
In the novel published
after Sidetracked, the
murderer also tortures as well as kills victims. Mankell follows
tradition by making most of his Trickster murderers male. The
Fifth Woman introduces Yvonne Ander--the only female. Like Stefan,
her purpose is to right the injustice done to women by male abuse. Yvonne
Ander creates painful forms of execution that are appropriate to the
crimes the men have committed against women (282) : a bungee pit with
sharpened stakes; imprisonment and starvation to the point of madness
and then strangling; drowning in a sack while conscious.
her deceased grandmother’s home, Yvonne has created “a room of
sacrifice” which contains only the enormous baking oven where she
keeps her second victim imprisoned until he is pretty well out of his
mind and so weak she can kill him with her bare hands. Similarly,
Stefan creates a sacred space for his rituals in the basement of his
parents’ home. Yvonne uses her deceased grandmother’s house as her
“church,” her “sanctuary,” her “cathedral” (42). There shr
leads a female support group, hoping to inspire abused women to fight
back. She is a priestess dedicated to “proclaiming the sacred task
that justice was holy” (45).
Like Hoover/Geronimo she believes that her victims are monsters
and should be wiped out without a chance for redemption.
Wallander decides that
Yvonne was “that rare type of person who couldn’t lie” (426).
At first this seems contradicted by her frequent use of
disguise. But Yvonne believes in her ability to shed one identity for
another. Like Stefan, she performs a ritual that transforms her
externally and, in her belief system, internally. As
she takes off and puts on clothing for the meeting of women, she
accompanies each article of clothing with a prayer. She images the
process like a priest preparing for mass, a “cleansing
procedure…for a holy ritual.”
She directs her prayers not to God but to the child she had
been: “She prayed herself back to her childhood.” When
she takes off her work clothes and puts on soft fabrics, “something
happened inside her. It was as if her skin altered, as if it too was
shifting back to its infant state.”
She adds a wig and glasses and as the final prayer ends, “She
was ready, she was somebody else” (44-45).
Time Shifter-Gender Shifter
Yvonne Ander and
Stefan Fredman are passionate about their pursuit of justice through
the act of slaying the men they consider “monsters.”
The next novel written by Mankell, One
Step Behind, introduces a chillingly calm murderer.
Three young friends gather for a midsummer celebration,
wearing costumes, wigs, playing music from the 18th
century. They think they are doing more than playing “a game”;
they believe that they can leave their own historical age for another
time (1-5). The desire to
“control time and move back and forth through the ages” is
inspired by new age literature about time travel and its usefulness
for “self-actualization” (194). In
some countries, spiritual sects have been created centering around the
belief that practicing moving through time will enable time travelers
to be reborn into the age they choose at the time of their death
The murderer, Ake
Larstam, watches the
celebration, shoots the three friends, puts on one
of their wigs, sits with the dead bodies and nibbles on their food, as
though he is part of the celebration (4-6).
Then he buries the bodies, only to dig them up a month later
and reassemble the scene. Surely
this is one of the most bewildering tricks that Wallander and his
colleagues have to try to explain. The murderer also sets up other
murder scenes as he would stage a theatrical production or arrange a
painting (71, 162). He
seems to be “teasing” the police with his tricks (386).
feeling of unlimited power” and the “knowledge that only he who
had the upper hand would escape” (4) inspires the murder of the
young people. Ake likewise creates a carefully engineered
murder of a young couple wearing “costumes’’—the
wedding clothes of a newly married bride and groom. (306) When
caught, Ake appears to be a mild and unemotional man who apparently
doesn’t even know why he kills. Wallander
sees him as a “monster” who wants to kill people at the point when
they seem to be most happy (435).
Having lost his own
place in society, his engineering job, and the social acceptance that
this role gave him, Ake believes he is living outside of time:
enormous change he’d undergone had made him imperious to time. He
realized there was no such thing as past or future. There was no time
that could be lost or won. The only thing that counted was action. (271)
The act of murder
preserves but also destroys his victims at the moment that he chooses
Ake Larstam belongs to
the gender bending tradition of Trickster Loki legends. The Loki of
Scandanavian myth, like many Native American Trickster figures,
assumes a female as well as male identity.
Some of the time, Ake lives as the transvestite and homosexual
“Louise” (340). Wallander
thinks of Louise as “an act” (340).
But Ake/Louise believes in his own creations. When he doesn’t
need Louise any more, he hopes to transfer her wig and facial make-up
to another victim. In this way, he can let Louise “die” and
“make” himself “into another woman” (437).
Like Stefan Fredman and Yvonne Alder, Ake Larstam believes that
he is a shapeshifter, not simply a man who wears disguises.
The Trickster/ Loki as Destroyer of Social Systems
Students of the Trickster and Loki stories in myth, legend, and
the spiritual heritage of Native American or Scandinavian cultures
often point out the fact that these figures, while known for tricks
and deception, are useful for disrupting and destroying social systems
that have become outmoded or corrupt.
last two Wallander novels focus on criminals who strive to create
chaos and destroy the social systems dominant in western culture. The
actions of these criminals are shown as in no way benevolent or likely
to lead to improved civilizations. Firewall
presents a villain who started out as an idealist working to promote
justice and economic equality. Coming
disillusioned with efforts to help developing countries, Carter
concluded that “if the world’s financial systems remain as they
were, there could be no true reform (Firewall
275). He and a small group
of like-minding associates hatch a plot to create a “New World
Carter and a computer
genius name Tynnes Falk plot to destroy the current “order” by
connecting the computer systems that run the essential functions of
contemporary society. When the right program is triggered, nothing
will work in the banking system and then in the basic services offered
by industrial society: “After their intended crippling of the world
financial markets, they’d had plans to strangle important utilities
Like other criminals,
they cannot resist playing tricks to mislead the police and to show
how clever they are. Some of the tricks seem to have no logical or
rational meaning. As Trickster/Loki characters, they fall in love with
their own ability to bewilder the police. Thus they steal a body, cut
off its fingers, and make the body reappear in the location where it
was found dead. They further mystify the police by leaving a heavy
relay from an electrical station they have sabotaged in the first
Trickster/Loki characters Cater and his associates develop a sense of
pride at being set apart; they are “the chosen” (4). Becoming
intoxicated with their own sense of power, theyview themselves as
“not only overseers but as deities” of the New World Order which
is supposed to somehow grow out of the chaos they create (397).
The last crime novel
to include Wallander features Linda Wallander, Kurt’s daughter, who
joins the police at his station in Ystadt. The central villain in Before the Frost starts out as a sincere follower of Jim Jones. He
escapes the general slaughter and goes mad in imitation of Jones.
, he gathers a congregation of meek followers and hatches a plot to
dismantle the Christian “establishment,” which he views as
corrupt. The steps to this
goal include animal and human sacrifice. He tricks some swans by
feeding them and then burns them alive.
His deputy sets fire to a pet store with the animals inside and
burns a calf . A woman who had an abortion is strangled in a church
ritual (102). These acts,
which bewilder the police, have a purpose beyond mystifying the
police. They are ultimately supposed to awaken people to a
“Christian paradigm shift”—a return to a religion as harsh as
the old Testament (336-37).
Erik Westin believes
he is the new prophet who has taken the place of Christ; the latter
failed God by being imperfect and weak (312). Erik has studied the
methods of radical Muslims, who will not be admitted to the
, but who have taught him the necessity of violence and destruction.
He believes his followers can be used to destroy present forms of
Christianity and reinstate his version:
time had come at last…He had re-instituted the ritual sacrifices
with their origins in the earliest days of Christianity… Killing in
order to sustain life was an important practice to combat the
emptiness that existed inside man. (247)
The climax of the
narrative reveals the climax of Erik’s destructive plan. The
followers of his cult are prepared to blow themselves up along with
the physical churches that represent the degraded Christianity of the
West. Erik’s followers plant dynamite in “the foremost symbols of
the false prophets…thirteen cathedrals” (348).
Firewall clearly was influenced by fears about the possible
disruptions that might be caused by the Y2K transition at the year
2000. Before the Frost is
evidently written in response to the growth of religious
fundamentalism, Christian and Islamic. Erik Westin’s plans come to
the same conclusion as do those of Falk and Carter. The Wallanders—father
and daughter—prevent Erik and his followers from destroying the
physical symbols of institutional stability—the thirteen Swedish
the Frost ends on an upbeat note when Linda saves a young girl
from committing suicide (371-75).
But this brief positive “Epilogue”
is prefaced by a scene in which Linda and the others in the
police station are waiting for a special news report from the United
States on September 11 (366-67). The
last sentence of the “Epilogue” is “Winter had arrived in Skane”
(375)--an ominous metaphoric announcement of storms to come.
Hennig. Before the Frost: A Kurt
and Linda Wallander Novel. 2002.
Trans. Ebba Segerberg.
: Vintage Crime, 2006.
. 1992. Trans. Laurie Thompson.
: Vintage Crime, 2004.
Killers. 1991. Trans.
Steven T. Murray.
: Vintage Crime, 2003.
Fifth Woman. 1996. Trans. Steven T. Murray.
: Vintage Crime, 2004.
Trans. Ebba Segerberg.
: Vintage Crime, 2003.
The Man Who Smiled.
1994. Trans. Laurie Thompson.
: Vintage Crime, 2007.
One Step Behind. 1997.Trans.
: Vintage Crime, 2003.
Trans. Steven T. Murray.
: Vintage Crime, 2003.
The White Lioness.
1993. Trans. Laurie Thompson.
: Vintage Crime, 2003.
The Poetic Edda. Trans.
Henry Adams Bellows (1936).
Internet. October 2008.
Available http.//www.sacred- texts.com/neu/poe/poe10.htm.
Author Author Note
Rose MRose Marie Cutting Has published reference guides to early American authors
and to Anais Nin, articles on
female authors, American culture,
history and culture.
St. Mary’s University
St. Antonio TX 78228