The Man Who Smiled (Mannen som log) is the fourth instalment in Henning Mankell’s highly acclaimed Kurt Wallander series. The plot revolves around three murders and the figure of Alfred Harderberg, one of the richest men in Sweden.
Chronologically the book is set between October and December 1993. It picks up one year after the events narrated in the third novel in the series (The White Lioness). In the early pages of the book we learn that the lawyer Gustaf Torstensson ihas been killed for he has found out too many secrets about the origins of the wealth and power of his only client Alfred Harderberg.
The Swedish author writes this chapter from the point of view of Mr. Torstensson and this approach gives to the reader a crucial insight about the story. It also gives us an advantage for many pages on Wallander and his team with regard to the investigation.
When we finally meet Inspector Wallander, at the beginning of the second chapter, he is strolling on the sandy beaches of Skagen, in the north of Denmark. We learn that Wallander has been on sick leave for over a year, after he killed a man while on duty. Burdened by the sense of guilt, Wallander has come to question his future as a police officer. After 25 years in the force, he is ready to resign and start a new life.
This is what he tells Sten Torstensson, a good friend of his and the son of the dead lawyer, who has come to Skagen to ask for Wallander’s help in solving his father’s murder. The police have recorded the death as a car accident, but Sten is convinced otherwise. Wallander however can do nothing for Sten; he already considers himself an ex-police officer. #
A week later Wallander is back in Ystad. He has to sign some paperwork, say good-bye to his former colleagues and officially retire. He is ready for it, but then something happens and it changes everything.
What it follows is a classical Wallander investigation set in the small Swedish town of Ystad and in the mysterious Farnholm Castle owned by Harderberg. The atmosphere is one of the strength of the book: the fog, the cold of winter and the disappearance of good old Sweden are all there.