The Fifth Woman

Title: The Fifth Woman
Author (in Swedish): Henning Mankell
Translator (to English): Steven Murray
Originally Published In:  1996
Translated In: 2000
Genre: Mystery
My Rating: 4 on 5

The Fifth Woman starts with a prologue where five women are brutally murdered by some unknown murderers in a remote place in Africa. Four of them are nuns and the fifth woman is a tourist who takes shelter with the nuns. While the nuns’ death is acknowledged by the police and government, they hush up the murder of the fifth woman to avoid any political conflicts. The death of the fifth woman would have gone unnoticed if not for a policewoman who investigated this murder and who decides to write a confidential letter to the fifth woman’s daughter in Sweden informing her about the tragic incident. This proves to be a turning point in the daughter’s life.

The following chapters tell the reader about a series of brutal murders that take place in and around Ystad. Wallander is involved in the investigation and he tries to find the murderer before the person can cause more harm. All through the book, we see a battle of intelligence – the murderer and Wallander try to outdo themselves and prove who is smarter. We all know, every criminal makes a mistake and that is how Wallander solves the case.

The book has a very strong opening. The plot generates an amount of intrigue and dread in the hearts of the reader. The murders are brutal and dreadful, but you can’t stop from reading further to know what happens next. The way Mankell ties in different story lines and introduces the twists and turns keeps you on the edge of your seat. Even though the murdered characters are of little use later on, Mankell takes the trouble of giving these characters a personality of their own.

The following para contains spoilers. Skip it if you have not read the book yet. If you want to read it, select the paragraph with your mouse and you will be able to read it.

Mankell took a lot of care in developing the plot and the motive behind the murders, but I was let down by how the mystery was solved. Wallander was on the right track all along and one simple mistake from an otherwise meticulous murderer gave the identity away – which is hard to believe. When the murderer escapes from the station, Wallander takes a wild guess about where the murderer might go and it turns out to be true and that is another weak point in the book. Why did the murderer end up going to that place when it was very well known that the place is already known to the police? Mankell also lets a few loose ends flutter and does not tie them up. We never come to know the story behind the severed head found in the first victim’s safe. And what about the diary found in the safe? What was the relation between the owner of the diary and the victim? Despite these weak points, the book was a very interesting read.

Unlike the other mystery authors, Mankell gives a human touch to the hero of his books. Wallander is not painted as a dashing, intelligent, flawless man who every woman desires. Instead, he is shown to have problems of his own – a divorce, a daughter who does not really get along well with him and a father who is always complaining that Wallander does not devote enough time to him. Mankell not only focuses on the plot of the book, but cares to touch about other social issues. He brings in debatable issues of citizen militia and mercenaries, but never loses the momentum of the story. He even gives us a glimpse of the woes of a working mother – how difficult it is to balance a profession and family when there is no support around. This particularly touched my heart because I am a working mother myself.

This book is the tenth in the Wallander series. I read the first one and jumped straight to 10th, but it no way affected the pleasure I had in reading the book. Strong plot, interesting characters and a deep insight into the investigative procedure make this book a highly readable one.

This book qualifies for Nordic Challange 2011 and 2nds Challenge 2011.

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