Review: The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell

The Troubled ManThe Troubled Man by Henning Mankell

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is the final Kurt Wallander book from Henning Mankell, and although I have enjoyed many of these in the past I must admit to a feeling of disappointment with this one.

The book tells of Wallander’s obsession with the disappearance of the parents of the man living with his daughter Linda. The book proceeds at an extremely slow pace, even for a Mankell novel. The primary theme is that of Wallander coming to terms with his own mortality, and that of those around him. There is little of the usual procedural aspects, or his relationship with other members of his team, which has lifted previous books and also the Swedish produced television series. Most of the book concerns itself with Wallendar’s independent investigations conducted during his own time.

There is a nagging feeling that the apparent subject matter has been chosen after the success of other Scandinavian fiction – spies, America and political dealings – which is a shame, as Mankell has a claim to being the father of this genre and it is a disappointment to see him jumping on the bandwagon at this stage.

I will not give away the ending, but I have to say the final two paragraphs are perhaps the most depressing of any novel I have read for many years.

The book has a feel of something created from duty rather than love, and it would have been better for Henning Mankell to have allowed Kurt Wallander a more fitting tribute to his career than this.

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Ciao da Napoli: Day 6

Yes, I know. What happened to Day 5? It kind of merged into all the other days. It was wet, it was cold, and I did very little after eating and drinking too much the day before. So here’s the next and final instalment.

As I write this I am back home. Outside the fields are green and everyone tells me there has been a heatwave and the temperaure in Herefordshire has been 6 degrees (Celsius) warmer than southern Italy! And people say climate change is a myth?

Anyway – after a two and a half hour flight, three hour drive and one take away meal later I can tell you about our penultimate day.

After being unable to travel to the Bay of Naples islands on Saturday we finally made it Tuesday and got to Ischia. After the noise and chaos of Naples it was a pleasant change of scene. We had five hours on the island, just enough time to indulge in a slow coffee and pastry, a long lesiurely walk to the castle in the main port, and then a long afternoon meal on a terrace overlooking the Mediteranean. And yes, I know it sounds really tough, but if I’m only doing it to save you all the journey.

We returned in the evening with the plan of returning my daughter to the train station to catch a 10 o’clock train to the town she is staying this year in. But it being Italy, or Naples, or more likely both when we arrived at the station at 9:30 they had sold out of tickets! A train station that sells out of tickets…? So she ran down the road to a tabacharia where you can also buy tickets to discover they had sold out as well. So, nothing for it, she gets on the train anyway even though you cannot buy tickets on the train. If they questioned her she was going to pretend ignorance “I am a poor English girl, no I don’t undertand, sorry” even though she no speaks fluent Italian. Anyway, as it turned out she didn’t have to worry.

After arriving back at the apartment we get a text from her: Train is still in station, they are not sure if it’s going.

Fifteen minutes later: Train is not going. Getting taxi back now.

Her taxi driver gave her a scare by driving her through all the back alleys of Naples and overcharging, but this was now almost midnight so she was just glad to get back to the apartment. This morning at five she got up to catch the morning train so she could return to work. Apparently they had found some new tickets overnight so all is well, and the trains are now running.

Naples and all the other adventures we have had are now a memory. Tomorrow I return to work, but of course this is another long weekend, with the Royal Wedding on friday. Sorry if I am going to disappoint you, but I won’t be watching, not even to see what the dress is going to be like. Instead, I am hoping to get back to writing the next scenes in Cherri Red. Keep reading, and I’ll post again soon with some more updates on the next book.

 

 

Ciao da Napoli: Day 4

The secret alleyways above via Toledo

Some while ago I wrote a story called Il Libro d’Amore set in Naples. When I wrote the story I had never visited the city and took my locations from studying maps and the feedback provided by my daughter. The trouble is, the maps did not show exactly how steep and tortuous some of the routes were in the maze of alleys north of Via Toledo, and my daughter is uniquely oblivious of her surroundings. Having now made my second visit to this wonderful city I decided I would wander these alleys and climb to Castel S. Elmo. If you google this, on the map produced you see a grid of narrow alleys and the castle north of them. What this does not show, unless you switch to Terrain view, is how precipitous these alleys are, and even then you don’t get the feel of the narrow and steep nature of these streets.

We passed the location of Nunellas restaurant – the most wonderful, mad, lunatic trattoria in Naples which we visited in December and plan to visit again before we leave, time permitting, but time is running out fast – and moved beyond, climbing, always climbing. As we moved deeper into the alleys I was reminded of my story. I could go back now and make it more realistic, but I have moved on and I think the story, despite its limitations, stands as it is without being changed. Shops and pizzerias give way to residential areas and the atmosphere becomes darker. The houses let directly onto the cobbled alleys and washing hangs outside, at least one scooter chained against each doorway. Today is Easter Sunday, and it seems the most popular way of spending the afternoon for the young is to zoom around on a scooter – always the man on front, the girlfriend behind. At one point we were almost run down by a scooter with a family of three perched on it. Papa sat on the pillion, Mamma behind, and steering and controlling the machine was a girl of no more than seven with a huge grin on her face. Proud Pappa sat behind her as she stood in the footwell, his arms crossed over his chest.

We became lost, as in my story turning into blind alleys until we were saved the first time by a middle aged man with hardly any voice recognizing us as tourists and directing us along to the next turning where we found steps leading up. And up. And up.

Napoli beneath Vesuvius

We made our sweating way to what we innocently believed was the summit. Deciding in which direction to turn we took the roadway heading slightly uphill and walked around piles of rotting rubbish until once more totally lost. An older man repairing an ancient scooter once more took pity on us innocents and directed us back two hundred meters where we once more found the route upward. Thus we proceeded, step by step up the hillside until sometime later, tired and slightly light headed arrived at the top of the rise.

From here the view of Napoli is outstanding and you can see across the entire bay to the towering presence of Vesuvius, the influence of which I have written of before and so will not dwell on again here.

We navigated around the Castle and made our way back down, down, down over another series of steps which led us almost directly back to the far end of Via Toledo. Alongside the steps we heard families celebrating their Easter lunch. Dogs and cats crossed our path. Young children leaned over balconies and waved and shouted “Ciao”, perhaps as perplexed and delighted by us as we were by them. On these endless steps we found a different Napoli. Gone was the constant roar of traffic, the buzz of scooters, the confusion of people. Instead the bay came in glimpses, ferries crossing to Ischia and Capri. The sun warmed the cobbles and we made our way slowly downwards, emerging eventually into the world we had left behind, having discovered yet another side to this magical city.

To see all of the pictures from today visit my Facebook page.

Caio da Napoli: Day 3

We were supposed to go to Ischia today, the largest of the islands in the bay of Naples. But when we arrived at the ferry port and had spent fifteen minutes queuing for tickets the sales desk changed their sign to tell us the ferry was full! Not to be outfoxed, we hired a car instead and drove up to Vesuvius and then to Pompeii – this was on our itinerary for Monday, but I am ever flexible.

Vesuvius overshadowing the remains of Pompeii

Vesuvius overshadowing the remains of Pompeii

It is said that Naples is as chaotic as it is because the Neapolitans live in the shadow of Vesuvius. They believe that life may be very short and so live it as though every day has to be filled with everything they have yet to do – love, lust, gluttony, pleasure, all the good things in life and little of the bad (other than the driving, but I believe this is also a sport they enjoy). Vesuvius is the only active volcano in mainland Europe, and is currently overdue for eruption. Follow the link to my Facebook page to see some more pictures taken earlier today.

 

After driving up the incredible road to the car park almost at the top of Vesuvius, we walked up to the summit where jagged rocks entice unwary tourists to approach. Steam and gases continue to flume from fissures in the rock, a reminder than this giant is only sleeping, not dead.

Later drove down to Pompeii but somehow managed to miss all of the erotic statues and paintings. Some oversight for a writer of erotic fiction, but I’ll get them next time.

Ciao da Napoli: Day 2

Blogging in our apartment window

In Naples, but not the rest of Italy, life proceeds it seems without rule or regulation, but it does proceed and in some cases seems to work better than other parts of the world.

Take the traffic. There are traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and pedestrian areas as there are everywhere. It’s just that here these seem not even advisory but are regarded as some anomaly created by a different and alien culture. Definitely nothing to do with modern Naples or its citizens.

Pedestrians and traffic weave and intermingle everywhere. Scooters – sometimes with an entire family of four on them, a five year old standing in front of Dad, hands on the bars, a young girl wedged behind him and Momma on the back – speed along between cars and trucks, roar along narrow cobbled alleys. Horns sound almost at random. If a driver has the temerity to so much as slow at a junction those behind urge them on.

Those on foot simple ignore the traffic. So far I have not seen an accident, but they must happen. Unfortunately, and probably, only to tourists like us. If you want to cross the road it seems you just step out. That apparently speeding car sees you and slows, or swerves, but in any case misses you and you make it safely across. There are pedestrian crossings but you may as well ignore them because everything else does.

We came here in December, and once again this time have yet to see a single vehicle that does not have dented fenders and scratches along both sides. If you drive a Mercedes or BMW or other smart vehicle the lesson is – avoid Naples at all costs. The local police cruise the streets in small dented cars and powerful motor cycles. They park in groups in the squares and sit around smoking and chatting. And yesterday I saw the most incredible policewoman  – small and blonde and incredibly beautiful, strolling with her two colleagues through the alleys, talking and laughing.

In a couple of days we are going to Pompei and Vesuvius and have decided to hire a car for the day. I’m not sure how good a plan this is, but it could be entertaining if nothing else.

The lesson I am taking for today is: Some countries, some cities, thrive on regulation and order. Naples thrives – and thrive it most certainly does – on the ignoring of regulation. And it works. I have no idea how or why, but it does work.

Tomorrow I will tell you about another feature of this wonderful city.

Ciao da Napoli: day 1

I am sitting in a beautiful apartmnent in Naples, Italy, having flowing in from Gatwick earlier today. My daughter met us at the airport and we came into the historic city center. As we left home at 6 a.m. this post will be fairly short, as I need a shower and then we are going out to eat Pizza, drink wine and meet my daughter’s friends. She has been living in Italy for almost a year now while working and learning the language.

I have been to Naples once before and it’s not to everyone’s taste, but I absolutely love it. It’s noisy, dirty, loud and chaotic, but also vibrant and overflowing with life. Cars and scooters zoom everywhere, even along pedestrian areas, fruit and vegetable sellers spill onto roadways, voices sound from all around and washing hangs from balconies. The city is full of beautiful women and I shall have to try and behave myself so I don’t disgrace myself – shame, as the temptation is so strong.

 

 

Cheri Red update 3

Ten years have passed. Dani is married to Jack, the boy who saved her at summer camp. Jack runs his own boat dealership and Dani is a successful photographer, still refusing to do glamor shots and people have stopped asking. They are a young successful couple. Jack wants them to start a family but Dani puts him off. She still carries a flame for Cheri after all this time. She knows it’s stupid but she can’t help herself.

Dani has heard little from Cheri since summer camp. They wrote once or twice, but after the second letter Cheri stopped. Dani kept going for a year then stopped too. She still keeps Cheri’s two letters in her underwear drawer.

Dani is finally accepting her sexuality. When Jack hires three models for a photoshoot on one of his yachts he asks Dani to be the photographer. The shoot gets out of hand and Dani ends up locking herself below decks while the three girls pleasure each other and Dani takes pictures. She is tempted to join in but fights her desire. Later that night she shows the pictures to Jack and they masturbate side by side. They have been doing that a lot lately. She cannot remember the last time they had real sex.

Dani is in Austin on a commission when she sees Cheri’s picture on a poster. She has a concert at a small theatre and Dani books a ticket, gets up her courage and hangs around before the show. Cheri signs a CD before she recognizes Dani. Cheri asks Dani inside, throws her ticket away and gives her a front of house seat. Dani watches the woman she loves on stage and her infatuation grows even stronger.

When Cheri asks her back to her hotel Dani believes this might be the start of the rest of her life. But it turns out badly. Cheri takes coke, drinks too much and passes out. In the morning she is ill, then cool with Dani.

After they part Dani has a phone call which brings devastating news. As a direct result she makes a discovery that will change the course of her next ten years, and she starts to go off the rails.

Out of the blue Cheri calls Dani and asks for her help. Dani is busy and cannot come straight away. It’s another wrong decision which she regrets almost immediately when Cheri does something stupid. She tries to put things right but is too late.

Look out Italy

Later this week – Wednesday – I’m off to Napoli for a few days to visit my daughter. If I get a chance I’ll post some pictures and updates and hopefully make you all jealous (unless you already live in Italy, in which case I’m the jealous one!

I’ll post tomorrow with a summary of the second part of Cherri Red, and give you a summary of the final section before I leave.

Cheri Red update 2

Well, what do you know. Overnight I decided to change the name of my main character from Cherry to Cheri. Sounds exactly the same. Unfortunately this is just the kind of issue I obsess over, and I guess most people don’t care about. Anyway, a little more about the story.

Cheri Red starts twenty years ago, the year Dani Walker and Cheri Redmond turn eighteen. Between high school and college they sign up as counsellors for summer camp. Dani’s father is a respected photographer and she comes along to teach photography to kids ranging from 12 through 17. Cheri wants to be a country singer and is there to teach guitar and song-writing.

The two meet even before camp begins when their buses gets stuck and they hike across country to the camp. Dani is trying to ignore the stirrings of lust she is starting to feel for other girls – the stirrings she feels strongly for Cheri from the moment they meet. Cheri seems to be into boys. But as the summer progresses and they spend more time together the relationship deepens. They date boys together, but Dani finds it tough to hangaround with them when she feels like she does about Cheri.

Life in the camp goes on all the while, and Dani’s photography class turns its eye on subjects other than water and trees and rocks – as one of them says: “It’s still nature, Dani. Just nature of a different kind”. When Dani finds out she tries to put a stop to it but ends up getting drawn in and taking pictures of a naked Cheri.

The wife of the camp owner finds some of the prints and Dani is almost thrown out. She is saved by Jack who comes forward and takes all the blame. Dani is appalled at what she has allowed herself to be drawn into, and deadly afraid her Dad will find out. She loves and respects her Dad more than anyone in the world and hates the idea of dissapointing him.

The summer draws to a close. Dani and Cheri stay on after almost everyone has left. They wander the woods and streams, and suddenly the relationship take on a new urgency until a passion neither can fight erupts on their final night together.

I’m writing the next three days, finalising the plot before starting on the actual words. I’ll get back soon with the second part of this three part story, which takes place ten years after the summer camp.

Cherry Red first announcement

As promised yesterday I want to update you on what I’m going to be working on next. But first an aside on writing technique.

I recently came across a post by Darren Kirby talking about the Snowflake Method as described by Randy Ingermanson and followed this up. I was so taken with the idea I am using it for my next book and so far it is making a difference to the way I write. I have always been a sloppy writer, rattling through a first draft at speed and then spending months going over and over it again ironing out problems. This method looks like it will help me shorten the time from start to finish, and make the story better. You’ll have to let me know when it comes out, some time over the next 3-4 month period.

Working title is Cherry Red, and in line with the snowflake method I have a one sentence description.

Two eighteen year old girls fall in love at Summer Camp and take twenty years to realize it.

That’s it – the book in a nutshell. I am going back to my first love, which is a lesbian based story. This will be a full length (60,000+) word novel with a cast of characters and a real plot driving it (apart from the sex, of course – there will be lots of sex).

Tomorrow I’ll tease you with a little more detail on who the people are and what’s going to happen. For now, back to the plotting and planning…