The popularity of Henning Mankell’s Inspector Wallander, who is said to make female fans want to mother him, has been a mixed blessing for readers of detective fiction. The good thing is that more foreign novels are being translated into English. The bad thing is that much the same Wallander type is now on duty from Reykjavik to Rio: a downbeat but lovable man in his forties or fifties, out of tune with the age—though hardly eccentric—and trying heroically to live without a woman. Poignant scenes of microwave cooking abound.
Karin Fossum’s Inspector Sejer, for example, is a lanky widower “dragging on alone for the ninth year.” In He Who Fears the Wolf (Harcourt), the latest installment of this Norwegian series to be published in America, a young schizophrenic escapes from a mental institution and heads for the forest, where an old recluse is later found murdered. It’s a setup worthy of the novel’s menacing cover, but in a farcical twist the schizophrenic is taken hostage by a bank robber on the lam. We soon learn that both fugitives are as lovable as Sejer himself. Like all men I have a maternal instinct, but I can clutch only so many characters to my breast at one time, and when the odd couple crosses paths with a little bird-hunting brat, I couldn’t help hoping he would set the schizophrenic off. Old Sejer putters about on the periphery of the narrative, solving a murder that no longer seems to matter. This is the problem with these sad-sack sleuths: their own creators get bored of them. Mankell recently took a long break from Inspector Wallander, and Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, the Brazilian writer, plans to give his Inspector Espinosa a rest after only the fifth novel in the series.