As a child I read avidly and writing was something I’d always wanted to do as a career (that dream still exists, but at 40 already feels less likely), but I reached a point in my 20s where I read little. Discovering Henning Mankell however helped get me reading avidly again, not just his books but many others too. Sadly, he is the second of my favourite authors who rekindled my love of reading to die in the last few years following Iain Banks in 2013.
Crime fiction has always been one of my favourite genres, but what makes Mankell’s stand out is the normality and humanity of the extraordinary events he writes about. Although he has written books with other lead characters it is of course the Kurt Wallander books that really stand out. As a character Wallander is a true human being with strong feelings about the world around him and the crimes he deals with, but this is conveyed in a way that is natural and not forcing you to take a particular view. The writing style of Mankell also really fits well with this and, like my other favourite crime writer Ian Rankin, is straight forward and easy to read even when you’re in a setting where it’s hard to concentrate. The plots are cleverly put together and he brings the people to life with a simplicity that I wish I could achieve myself.
Mankell was one of the first in a wave of Nordic crime writing that has been popular across Europe, and that also helped lead to the unlikely popularity of foreign language dramas on BBC4. But for someone who was born in Sweden and whose ability to speak or read Swedish is pretty poor, the availability and popularity of his books in English made me suddenly feel a lot more close to my roots. Reading great stories set in the Sweden of today has rekindled my sense of Swedishness and being able to truly understand my home country, and for that I’ll always be grateful. It’s not just the day to day life of Sweden and explaining how the country is, but for all the popularity they’ve had in the rest of the world there are still elements of Mankell’s books that have made me realise how much I understand about its culture that isn’t entirely obvious unless you have a connection to the country.
Henning Mankell has left a great legacy with his own writing, (and I will now savour even more every one of his books that I have yet to read), but as importantly he’s inspired so many other writers and readers to take an interest in the Nordic Noir genre that is now so popular.