I tend to prefer Scandinoir located in Scandinavian countries. The atmosphere is never quite the same when it is transported outside its own territory, making me anti-open border at least for this. Harry Hole in Australia or Thailand was the stuff of good novels but there is still that little atmospheric ingredient missing, the thing that makes the difference. The Dogs of Riga for the same reason didn't work quite as well as the first Wallander novel, Faceless Killers.
A raft is discovered floating and unmanned, in a manner of speaking, despite there being men on board. Two dead males with bullet wounds to their chests. The autopsy suggests an East European origin and the investigation subsequently ends up in Latvia, although morphs in the process. Prior to that Riga comes to Sweden in the person of Karlis Liepa, a major in the Latvian police. On return to his home country Liepa is confronted with a serious problem that needs further investigation and Wallander feels compelled to assist.
Wallander operates in a world he has difficulty comprehending. 1991 is witnessing a lot of turbulence in the Baltic region. The USSR has not yet imploded and its satellite states are still in the grip of party place seekers, state bureaucrats and secret police.
All at once he could understand what oppression and fear did to people. They put their hope in some unknown saviour who would spring from nowhere and save them.
A universal truth that oppressed people the world over ,since time immemorial, have discovered to their cost when putting their hopes in self proclaimed revolutionaries.
It is a Eurocentric book but it requires an Olympian leap of imagination to see how it might be anything else. That Wallander is a Ystad detective rather than a Stockholmer, compensates to some degree in that Ystadt is not as close to the metropolitan centre as the Swedish capital.
The wave of immigrants into Sweden was already proving challenging in Faceless Killers and the otherness of the foreign carries over into Dogs of Riga also. The author interrogates the new world through the eyes of Wallander whose night spent freezing in a Latvian church:
made him look deeper into himself than he had ever done before. He realised that thee world at large bore very little resemblance to Sweden.
Yet Sweden too bore its own dark secrets, which for the most part seem to involve the political police and security services, and which rarely see the light of day outside of fiction.
Wallander was only too aware:
of the many scandals involving justice in recent years., which had exposed the network of tunnels linking the basements of state organisations ... a large proportion of the real power was practiced in dimly lit secret corridors , far beyond the control regarded as essential in a state governed by the rule of law.
Perhaps The Dogs Of Riga would have been much better had I have not read what preceded it, Faceless Killers. Not that it is a bad book, just not as methodically plotted as the opener in the series.
In general terms writers licence is all very fine but unless works of science fiction or horror the licence is not a free pass to ridiculously explore the absurd. Fortunately, the second in the Wallander series escapes that harsh characterisation, despite the culmination of the book clashing with the consistency the reader comes to expect from Scandinoir. Overegg the plot and it just doesn't work as well.
Henning Mankell, 2012, The Dogs Of Riga. Vintage. ISBN-13 : 978-0099570554
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