Henning Mankell

Faceless Killers

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Faceless Killers Summary

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Faceless Killers is a 1991 crime novel by Swedish author Henning Mankell. It is the first book in the Wallander series, named after its recurring protagonist, a middle-aged detective based in Ystad, Sweden named Kurt Wallander. While Wallander’s personal life flounders after a recent divorce, he strives to find the killers of a well-respected elderly couple who owned a local farm. Wallander finds that the brutal murders may have been perpetrated by foreigners; the case, as it unravels, makes an implicit commentary on the relationships between Sweden’s immigration policies, the epidemic of racism, and Swedish nationalism.

The novel begins in the wake of Wallander’s divorce. While extremely depressed and alcoholic, Wallander hopes to rekindle his relationship with his daughter, who has grown progressively distant ever since she attempted suicide several years before. He is called on to solve the case of the murders of Maria and Johannes Lövgren, a couple found at their farm after placing a desperate call to police. Johannes is found slaughtered, and Maria is found with a tight rope around her neck, in critical condition.

Maria dies in her hospital bed, after uttering the word “foreign.” An unknown listener leaks her last word to the media, which quickly leads to unfounded allegations that the killers were immigrants. A number of white supremacist groups take the national stage and demand stricter immigration policies in Sweden. While steering clear of the media storm, Wallander discovers that Johannes Lövgren secretly held a huge fortune, which he drew from to make payouts to his former lover, with whom he had a child.

Wallander searches for Lövgren’s mistress and illegitimate son. News breaks that an innocent Somali refugee is fatally shot by a white supremacist. Wallander begins to interview witnesses who were at the scene of the Somali man’s shooting. He learns that a Citroën was used to commit the crime, and links it to a stolen car reported by an ex-cop. Wallander tracks down the ex-cop and discovers the murderer. When he tries to make a high-speed getaway, the perpetrator crashes his car and dies.

Wallander makes more attempts to make amends with his wife, who refuses. At the same time, he falls for a married public prosecutor who recently moved from Stockholm, and the two begin an affair. Wallander discovers that his daughter is dating a medical student from Kenya, and intends to attend college. Slowly, they reconnect, while Wallander’s father begins to struggle with dementia. Wallander has his father hospitalized and hires a private nurse to support him. He receives even worse medical news when his best friend is diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Wallander refocuses on the Lövgren case. He finds Johannes’ son and finds that he accrued, then somehow paid off, an enormous debt from a gambling addiction. This is enough evidence to consider him a suspect. It turns out that Johannes’ son is innocent, and merely obtained the money by selling a car. He also has an incontrovertible alibi for the night of his father’s murder. Just as he starts to give up hope in solving the case, Wallander finds a tie between the Lövgrens and two foreign men who were seen at the same bank as Johannes during a large withdrawal. He manages to find their identities and secures their arrests, bringing an end to a seven month-long investigation. Faceless Killers ambivalently represents modern nationalist thinking in Sweden while critiquing the racist ideologies it perpetuates. Ultimately, Wallander strengthens his tenuous grasp on his family and professional life through rigorous research and an active effort to heal his relationships and emotions.