Sunday, June 26, 2011

The end.

This week, I've read the final novel in several detective/police series. I just finished The Troubled Man, Henning Mankell's final novel in the Kurt Wallander series; I also read the last novels in Robert B. Parker's Spenser and Jesse Stone series. On hand, I also have a new novel by Ian Rankin, whose final Inspector Rebus novel I read a while ago. I'm thinking about these final gestures--the final novels of the Rankin and Mankell series were decisions by the writers, who had, I'm guessing, come to feel these characters and the constraints surrounding their stories as a burden; Parker died last year, so these books were the last ones in the pipeline, (although I guess there's another Spenser novel that is "finished by" an assistant or something).

I found the experience of reading the Mankell novel to be unexpectedly upsetting, moving and sad, but also disturbing. I hope I'm not giving anything away when I say that Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus simply retired from police work in the final novel, but the fate of Wallander is not as straightforward (no spoilers here). I had to stop reading The Troubled Man for a little while this afternoon, because I realized that while I wanted to experience the resolution of the plot--what, after all, did become of the missing man, and who was he really?--I was not ready to say goodbye to Wallander, even though I found him to be a fairly frustrating character.

In the case of the Parker novels, and the character of Spenser specifically, I experienced something else again. I began reading his novels at another part of my life entirely, twenty-five years ago now. I always got around to reading the new novels as they appeared in my local library. After awhile, I knew that none of them would blow my mind, but the books were reliable in this sense: Spenser's voice was consistent, always; Parker knew and loved the great oeuvre of American hard-boiled; and he had a set of ideas to work through, about masculinity, about loyalty, about love, even. There was enough interest for me--and evidently for a lot of people, since he wrote dozens of books--that it felt like a small, if limited, delight to revisit the character, his scenes, his associations.

When I read that Parker had died, I felt a loss, personally. I read the last Spenser novel in the spirit of elegy, and in that regard, the experience of reading it was enhanced, or at least affected. (If you want to get a sense of how other crime fiction writers regarded Parker, read here and here.)

I am interested to know what my fellow Mankell-reading compatriots think of the final Wallander novel. It put me in mind of a wonderful B-movie-ish movie directed by George Romero, The Dark Half. (I loved that movie so much I bought it--in VHS!--but I did just discover in the course of my internet "research" on The Dark Half that both Siskel and Ebert could not recommend it. Tragic.) In the film, a writer who publishes literary fiction under his own name, but pulp novels under a pseudonym, writes what he hopes will be his very last pulp novel, then ceremoniously, and publicly, conducts a mock funeral for his pseudonymous "other half." It will not surprise you to know that, since the original story is written by Stephen King, the other half does not stay buried, and havoc--non-literary havoc--ensues.

I wonder, I wonder: will Mankell miss Wallander? Will the writer be sorry, finally, that his relationship with this long-time character, perhaps his other, has ended?


  1. Thank you for not spoiling the final Wallander for me! I am looking forward to/dreading it. I am currently enjoying The Man Who Smiled--my favorite so far, I think.

  2. I've only read the first Wallander and watched the first BBC adaptation. I quite enjoyed both of them though my favorite still is Erlendur (a la Iceland and Indridasson). I'd hardly read any detective fiction until the last 8 months--so engrossing.

  3. I remember when you first started reading the Parker novels. Excellent summation of their charms.

    I will be very sad when M.C. Beaton winds up the Hamish books, which (it must be said) are formulaic and beyond light. But I love the characters and their world (Brigadoon with a huge dose of malice), and it's always a pleasure for me to catch up with them all.



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