- The Return of the Dancing Master by Henning Mankell, translated by Laurie Thompson
Harvill, 406 pp, £14.99, October 2003, ISBN 1 84343 058 4
Henning Mankell’s recent series of police procedurals set in the southern Swedish town of Ystad, with Inspector Kurt Wallander as their hero, is a perfect illustration of the fate of the detective novel in the era of global capitalism.
The main effect of globalisation on detective fiction is discernible in its dialectical counterpart: the specific locale, a particular provincial environment as the story’s setting. In a globalised world, a detective story can take place almost anywhere: there are now detective series set in Botswana, on Native American reservations, in the industrial Ruhr, in Venice and Florence, in Ireland, in Brezhnev’s or Yeltsin’s Russia, even in contemporary Tibet (Eliot Pattison’s series, beginning with The Skull Mantra, centres on Shan, a Chinese police inspector, exiled to Tibet for political reasons). History also sets no limits: St Petersburg in the ‘golden’ 1880s, Julius Caesar’s Rome, Alexander the Great’s Court . . . There is, of course, a long tradition of eccentric locales in the history of detective fiction. Robert van Gulik wrote a series set in ancient imperial China; Agatha Christie’s Death Comes as the End is set in the Egypt of the pharaohs. However, these settings were clearly exceptions; and part of their appeal was their distance from paradigmatic locations (London and the English countryside for the classic whodunnit; Los Angeles or New York for the hard-boiled novel).