REVIEW: The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell (Kurt Wallander #3)

 

Series: Kurt Wallander

Book Number: 3

Read this book for: realistic police procedure, Cold War influence, gritty espionage thriller, straightforward plot, minimalist writing, Scandanavian/Nordic Noir

Quick Review: Decent read; while the twists and turns of the espionage element are unsurprising, the gritty details of the day-to-day prevent this novel from becoming unbelievable.

***

Kurt Wallander returns in his second novel to investigate two bodies that have washed up in a liferaft. Instead of being able to hand off the case when he discovers they have come from another country, he is drawn into a maze of corruption and politics he is unprepared for. Will his unwilling involvement cost him his life?

THE DOGS OF RIGA is the second (in terms of publishing order) in Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series. While this novel does not shine the way FACELESS KILLERS does, Mankell’s gritty, ultra-realist noir writing style keeps a somewhat tired plotline fresh and interesting, and makes this a piece not to be missed in the ongoing development of Wallander’s character.

This book is almost in a different genre than the first of the novels. Instead of focusing on the mystery that Wallander is trying to solve, THE DOGS OF RIGA reads more like an espionage novel or thriller in the style of John Le Carrė. While there are still plots to be chased down and things to be discovered, this book disappointed me a little by more or less abandoning the opening and central mysteries for action scenes and clandestine meetings. While the questions are resolved by the end, much of the focus of the novel felt like a digression from the reason that the reader was there in the first place.

Another digression again comes in the form of Wallander’s relationships. A general note on Wallander’s character: as much as I adore Henning Mankell’s novels, I do not understand Wallander’s tendency to fall in love in every book. Given that he becomes more disillusioned with each page, it is hard to reconcile his romantic impulses with his general disappointment.

The prose also suffered a little from the “second [book] syndrome”. However, despite the novel lacking the crisp, clean and polished lines of the first book, Mankell’s minimalist style carries the piece with good momentum, broodingly atmospheric detail, and language pared down to the essentials. The overall impression is one of striking (and often depressing) realism, while still resulting in an easy, relatively quick read.

Admirably, Mankell also manages to capture and convey varying feelings and sentiments about the fall of communism, the end of the Cold War, and the collapse of the Soviet Union without indulging in long ideological debates. In that respect, THE DOGS OF RIGA felt very accurate in its depiction of the situation in the Baltic states at that time.

In fact, one of the things that Mankell does very well in the Wallander series – and THE DOGS OF RIGA is another good example of this – is to capture sentiment about complex social and political issues in a very real, day-to-day way. This sensitivity is also evident in how the bureaucracy and daily routine is described; the jurisdictional issues, the constant, confusing attempts to modernize practices, and the way that the officers are actually more than happy to be able to hand off a case to a different authority because it means they can use the time on other cases are all recognizably real challenges that make the entire novel feel much more believable.

All told, THE DOGS OF RIGA is a decent read and a solid espionage thriller, if not as polished as the first of the Wallander novels. It is still a recommended read to find out more about Kurt Wallander!

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