As Kurt Wallandar books, Smiled sets the unsightly record of being the worst one ever. Might be that Vintage Crime/Black Lizard agrees, as they waited to publish this, the fourth book of the series, until after all of Mankell's other Wallander books had been on the stands for awhile. Makes sense--this is nothing much more than a protracted epilogue to the visceral gun-fest that ended White Lioness, which was actually a pretty great book. Still, Mankell didn't want his character to go the John Mcclane route and start solving crimes the way he did at the close of White, so the first fifty or so pages of Smiled contain nothing but a descriptive passages of a man trying to drink and fuck away the memory of slaughter. Luckily, he returns to the force to solve a real softball of a case, one that discloses it's motive and perp in the books prologue. After that, it's just more observances of Kurt, the only detective who seems to operate best sleeping around 2 to 3 hours a night for months at a time. By the end of Smiled, he's basically reverted to being the exact dude he was before Lioness. That's a serial for you.
Jesus' Son is amazing. Hanged Man is good, just a little too long, and a little too in love with being crazy. Not much in the way of plot here, mainly just a fun ride down into the world of that guy on the bus having a massively religious conversation with himself. (Which the main character, at one point, actually does! And he does it far enough into the book that you can't help but get really disgusted with all the people that are reacting the same way you do when somebody is talking to themselves on the subway! They, meaning you, are a total dick! Why are you a total dick?) While Hanged is a decent journey in a lunatics brainstem, it's pretty much just a diverting time-filler. The dialog is off the chain, though.
The best story ever told about Kant is the one that refers to the legend that the man took his morning walk at the same time every single day, to the point where the locals set their watches by his rounds. Due to a late night reading some masterpiece of philosophy, he missed his walk and a whole lot of people spent the day running late. It's got to be a lie, right? But if you've spent anytime with Groundwork, a book that quite happily advertises itself as "difficult", "unwieldy" and "complicated" you'll probably find yourself believing it. After all, it reads like a guy who's life was planned to tight corners. It's about a lot of stuff, like the ground, and the work that needs to be done to it so that metaphysic morals can be built there. No, that's really what it's about. Fuck you, you didn't read it.
It takes a long time to get to the part of the book where the aforementioned "Laughing Policeman" is revealed, and by the time the cynical joke is revealed, the reader has probably already reached their fill of cynicism. This is, after all, the David Simon version of 1970's crime fiction, meaning everybody is a little too real, their behavior a little too normal, and the crime a little too upsetting. (Which means, of course, that it's a tremendously good fucking read, even in a genre that's swamped with quality work. There's certainly got to be a huge backlog of terrible Swedish crime books, but America seems to only translate the cream of the crop.) The mystery underlying the book plays out well, and it ends with the sort of relentless intensity that would surprise even the biggest Alien 3 fan. It's surprisingly timeless stuff, and barring a few too many cops with seriously fucked up conversational skills, it's pretty unique to the field as well.
In the world that is books constructed out of letters, this is not better than The Sorrows of Young Werther, but it is better than getting punched in the face, mostly because it's short. But there's no one on Earth that's going to feel sorry for either of Dostoevsky's whining idiots by the time they near the end. That's a sort of testament to his ability as a writer, as he effectively portrays the characters as people the reader will most certainly wish a massive amount of harm on, but it doesn't serve to make for a pleasant period of reading time. If anything, it's a masochistic journey with some of the most selfish morons Fyodor ever put on the page. People who choose pride over bread deserve to die of starvation. I don't give a shit how you paint it.
-Tucker Stone, 2007