Thursday, August 06, 2009

'The Dogs of Riga'

by Henning Mankell
(Original title: Hundarma i Riga)
Translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson
Fiction/Crime, 1992 (Sweden), 2001 (English translation)
Vintage UK, mm pb, 342 p.
Inspector Kurt Wallander series, Book 2
Sweden, Winter, 1991. Inspector Kurt Wallander and his team receive an anonymous tip-off. A few days later a life raft is washed up on a beach. In it are two men, dressed in expensive suits, shot dead.

The dead men were criminals, victims of what seems to have been a gangland hit. But what appears to be an open-and-shut case soon takes on a far more sinister aspect. Wallander travels across the Baltic Sea, to Riga in Latvia, where he is plunged into a frozen, alien world of police surveillance, scarcely veiled threats, and lies. Doomed always to be one step behind the shadowy figures he pursues, only Wallander’s obstinate desire to see that justice is done brings the truth to light.
I picked this up while I was reading Best Intentions, which was a hardback, because I needed something easy to pop into my bag for my train commute. Sometimes if I’m tired, and the book I’ve brought along is a bit slow, I’ll end up dozing off in the train or I’ll put my book away and listen to a podcast or two instead. But there were no sleepy eyes with this one, it kept me wide awake, and it certainly made the train journeys go by that much faster. I actually almost wished the train ride home had been just a little bit longer one particular day as I got to our station with only a few pages left to go. However, as soon as I got home, I quickly polished them off.

The writing, or perhaps it was the fault of the translation, was occasionally awkward and clunky, and I had a couple of instances when I didn’t completely buy into certain events that took place. But the story itself was interesting and most of it took place in a country I know very little about. I love reading about new places and getting to experience them through the pages of fiction, so this was an added appeal. As The Dogs of Riga was originally published in 1992, and the story set in early 1991, in the unstable period of political turmoil as the Baltic States were moving toward independence from the Soviet Union, the imagined events of the plot were very current and topical. I’ve only read the first two books now in the Inspector Wallander series, but I really enjoy the fact that Mankell draws on current events and actual social issues for his inspiration. I’m looking forward to continuing on in the series and seeing what aspect of northern European life he can introduce to me next time.

Henning Mankell's website

First sentence: It started snowing shortly after 10 a.m.

Buy this book at: | | |

My Rating: 3/5
(#40 for 2009, Orbis Terrarum Challenge, Lost in Translation Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
Of Books and Bicycles
If you've reviewed this title too, let me know and I'll link to it here.


  1. The setting is appealing, but I'm not sure if this would be one for me.

  2. Nymeth - I'm pretty sure I've never read a story set in Latvia before so that was definitely appealing. You don't really read crime/detective stories though, do you? Despite the setting it still is a crime series at heart, so I'm guessing that it probably wouldn't be your thing. Sorry.

  3. I don't dislike mystery, I just don't know enough about it to know which types work for me and which don't :P I should do something about that.

  4. Nymeth - Well, in that case you'll just have to try some and see which ones you like. Just what you need though, more books to read! :P


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