The Man Who Smiled was the perfect choice of a follow up to The Laughing Policeman. It too, takes place in Sweeden, and in my opinion, would be a better option for any tourism bureau. While TLP made Sweeden feel absolutely miserable, as was needed for the story, TMWS features an actual castle! You hear that tourists? Sure, the weather might be terribly cold but there are magical castles. Okay, the castles aren't magic, but they still sound better than endles rain and misery.
Not to say that all is happy in this novel. The main character, and series regular, Kurt Wallander, can be just as disheartened as Matin Beck. At the start of the story he's at the tail end of a year of self-imposed exile. He's been thinking it over and feels that quitting the police force is the best option for him. At the last minute, a visit from an old friend, and that friends death changes his mind. From that point on, we still see the self-loathing detective, but also flashes of brilliance and confidence, which for this reader, makes the perfect protagonist. I want my detectives on the verge of a breakdown or breaking the case.
And what a case it is. From Wallander's own words...
Once upon a time there was an old lawyer who paid a visit to a rich man in his castle. On the way back home somebody killed him and tried to make us believe it had been a car accident. Soon afterward his son was shot dead in his office. he had begun to suspect it hadn't been a car accident after all, and so he went to see me to ask for help. He had made a secret trip to Denmark although, his secretary was told he had gone to Finland. She also received a postcard from there. A few days later somebody planted a mine in the garden of the secretary. A wide-awake officer from Ystad noticed that I was being followed by a car as we drove to Helsingborg. The lawyers had received threatening letteres from an accountant working for a county council. The accountant later committed suicide by hanging himself in a tree near Malmo, although the probability is that he, too, was murdered. Just as with the car accident, the suicide was contrived. All these incidents are linked, but there is no obvious thread. Nothing has been stoled and there is no sign of passions such as hatred or jealousy running high. All that was left behind was a strange plastic container. And now we start over again. Once upon a time, there was an old lawyer who paid a visit to a rich man in his castle.
While the book does have some contrivances and conveniences, I found it to be a very satisfying mystery, especially since the identity of the criminal mastermind is given to us in the opening chapter. The rest of the book rolls along with Wallander figuring out the link rather early, but then spending the rest of the story desperately searching for the much needed proof.
I should also note this book was perhaps the fourth in the Wallander series. I've hopped into series midstream before, and am usually annoyed by the constant recapping of previous books that seems to occur so often. That didn't really happen in The Man Who Smiled. Most past events are referred to only in passing, and I feel that nothing has been spoiled for future readings once I go back and start at the first book.
Now on to the Wallander BBC series.