When I bought Sidetracked, I had no idea that Henning Mankell is Swedish, and that this is an English translation of his book. Being bilingual, I’m always a bit wary about reading translations. I’m always wondering how much of the author’s original tone is being lost. How many figures of speech just do not survive being moved out of their original tongue? What is the translator adding in order to compensate? So usually I consider a translated work to be a collaborative effort between the original author and the translator. In this case it’s Steven T. Murray, who has also translated many of Mankell’s other novels, and he does a fine job.
Inspector Kurt Wallander of the Ystad police finds himself investigating a series of brutal murders where the victims have been scalped. The victims are also rich and well-known, and so there is a lot of outside interest and pressure for him to solve the case. At the same time he has to deal with his sick father, and figure out a way to tell his girlfriend that the case will mean he’ll have to cancel their holiday. It’s these family connections that lend Sidetracked a lot of its interest. You get the impression that Wallander (and the rest of the Ystad police force) is much more than just a cop: he is a son, a father, a lover, and a friend. Despite the viciousness of the crimes, the book feels gentle and innocent. Wallander is constantly wondering how the Sweden he loves so much can produce such a deranged killer. Despite his cynicism, he genuinely believes in the goodness of his country and its people.