By Richard West
In the world of mystery fiction cold Scandinavia is the hot spot these days. Increasingly readers are discovering Norway’s Jo Nesbo and Karin Fossum, Iceland’s Arnaldur Indridason, and everyone (including my cat, Fenway) has read the late Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (“The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”, etc.), 60 million copies sold in 43 countries and don’t miss the Lisbeth Salander clothing line. But the real connoisseur treasures Henning Mankel’s nine novels and one short story collection starring the dour Swedish detective Kurt Wallander, set not in Stockholm but in southern Sweden around the charming, Medieval coastal town of Ystad, 34 miles east of Malmo. The books have sold more than 30 million copies in 40 languages and have been made into 26 Swedish TV films. Perhaps you’ve seen the BBC series starring Kenneth Branagh as Wallander.
Meet Kurt Wallander: an inspector with the Ystad Police Dept., melancholy, depressive, diabetic, divorced, junk-food fancier, down to earth as a broom but also a swallowrific devotee of Glenmorangie scotch sipped while listening to his beloved Maria Callas and Swedish tenor Jussi Bjorling in his rather unkempt apartment; maintains wary relations with his grown daughter, Linda, ex-wife, Mona, and with an increasingly addled father, an artist who obsessively paints the same picture again and again: landscape with or without grouse; a rule-bending cop who, clue-searching, occasionally breaks into suspect’s apartments but who always gets his brutalitarians: man, woman, and in “ Sidetracked,” teenager.
As a Wallander enthusiast, perhaps you’ve taken the Kurt Wallander express train east from Malmo to Ystad , checked into the Wallander Room at the Sekel Garden Hotel (Langgatan 18), ready to walk the charming smallish city of 17,000 citizens, one-fifth of whom have appeared as extras in Wallander films, to truffle out important Wallander action sites in the novels. If you’re visiting any Tuesday or Thursday from July to mid-August, you can hop aboard the city-sponsored antique fire engine for movable tours of Wallanderville. Off we go:
…A few narrow cobblestoned streets away, the 182-year-old Continental Hotel (Hamngatan 13), the oldest continuously operating hotel in Sweden, where Wallander often meets his daughter, Linda, for special occasions. Ystad also is the site of Sweden’s first bank and automobile ride.
… A long block north, spacious Stortorget, Ystad’s main square where Wallander survived an explosion in “The Man Who Smiled” and fights for his life by the ATM in “Firewall.” St. Maria church is nearby where Wallander wed Mona in 1970 and attended the funeral of his colleague, Svedberg, in “One Step Behind.” You must walk to the church after dinner to hear the night watchman climb to the top and sound his copper horn to the four cardinal points every 15 minutes from 10:15 to 1 a.m., as his predecessors have done since the 13th century.
…A few streets east, past some of the town’s 300 half-timbered houses, is the outdoor patioed Café Backahasten (Lilla Ostergatan 6) where in “Firewall” Wallander meets to romance his computer-selected date, Elvira, near the weird carved horse head arising from a tree trunk. Clumsy with women since his divorce, Wallander seems to think they should come with directions.
…Continuing past the Kings Head Pub (Regementsgata 3) where there’s a big fight in the short story, “The Photographer,” we come to one of Sweden’s most famous streets, Mariagatan, where, at #10, the inspector lives with his library, opera records, dish-stacked sink, and his pale blue Peugeot parked under lamplight.
…At the city’s east end, the Cineteket (Elis Nilssons Rd. 8), a film museum with Wallander-film sets, close to the large Ystad Studios on an ex-military base where most interior filming is done.
Finally, after rest and refreshment back in your hotel’s Wallander Room, walk two doors down to the Bryggeriet Restaurant & Pub (Langgatan 20), an old malt warehouse built in 1749, now a brew pub. I suggest the grilled salmon in red-wine sauce and a dark Ysta Farskol beer.
These are just a few of the 48 Wallander locations listed in the Ystad Tourist Office’s “In The Footsteps of Wallander” brochure. I suggest you read the novels in order of publication beginning with Wallandar’s early policing days in the short story collection, The Pyramid, then on to the first novel (Faceless Killers) until the career-ending last offering, The Troubled Man published in the U.S. earlier this year.
Richard West spent nine years as a writer and senior editor at Texas Monthly before moving to New York to write for New York and Newsweek. Since then, he’s had a distinguished career as a freelance writer. West was awarded the National Magazine Award for Reporting in 1980 and is a member of Texas Arts & Letters.