Nordic noir author Henning Mankell loses battle with cancer

  • Books
  • Saturday, 10 Oct 2015

Fans of crime fiction are mourning the death of bestselling Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell, whose detective character Kurt Wallander became a worldwide phenomenon.

Mankell, who first revealed he had cancer in January last year, “died in his sleep” on Oct 5 in Sweden’s second city of Gothenburg.

Mankell’s collection of dark novels about the Swedish police inspector Wallander brought the author international fame, particularly after it was made into a television series by the BBC starring Oscar-nominated actor and director Kenneth Branagh.

“Henning Mankell was one of the great Swedish authors of our time, loved by readers in Sweden and all over the world,” said a statement from Leopard, the publishing house which Mankell co-founded in 2001.

“Solidarity with those in need runs through his entire work and manifested itself in action until the very end,” it said.

Mankell, who shared his time between Sweden and Mozambique, published more than 40 novels, plays and children’s books, selling around 40 million copies around the world.

The Wallander series itself won numerous awards and contributed to the massive global interest in Scandinavian crime and thriller novels dubbed Nordic noir.

Bestsellers written by Mankell.
Bestsellers written by Mankell.

The prickly character of Wallander hails from the coastal town of Ystad which has drawn fans of the detective series from around the world curious to follow in his fictional footsteps.

Branagh wrote to Swedish Radio that he would miss Mankell’s intelligence and generosity.

US rock icon Patti Smith, who shared a long friendship with Mankell, expressed her grief in an e-mail to Swedish daily Aftonbladet.

“I hesitate to rise and begin my day as I know each moment will form a clearer sense of the irredeemable loss of our dear friend and mentor,” she wrote. “As an author he inspired, entertained and incited. As a man he encouraged, supported and openly shared. In my mind I see his desk, the pages of his manuscripts, his black clothing, his knowing eyes.”

Mankell first revealed he had cancer in a newspaper column in January 2014, saying it was discovered when he underwent treatment for a slipped disc.

“A few days later ... I had it in black and white: it was serious. I had one tumour in the back of my neck and one in my left lung. The cancer could also have spread to other parts of my body,” he wrote at the time.

He chronicled his fight with the disease in his final book, Quicksand: What It Means To Be A Human Being.

Mankell was also known for rights activisim, and joined a flotilla in 2010 trying to break the Israeli blockade and take aid to the Gaza Strip.

Mankell is considered one of the great Swedish authors of our time, loved by readers in Sweden and all over the world. Photo: Reuters

He said he wanted to create a situation where “Palestinians are not treated like second-class citizens in their own country, a sort of apartheid system”.

In Mozambique, he was artistic director of the Teatro Avenida theatre group, in order to, as he said in a previous interview, observe the world from a spot other than “our ethnocentric Europe”.

Asked where he believed the centre of Europe lay, Mankell replied “the small island of Lampedusa, south of Sicily” from where tens of thousands of migrants arrive on Europe’s shores every year fleeing war and poverty.

After he began exploring Africa in the 1970s, he used to say he had “one foot in the snow, one foot in the sand”.

“Writing was vital for Henning,” Swedish news agency TT quoted Dan Israel, with whom he established Leopard, as saying.

“He was contemplating writing a new Wallander for the 25th anniversary of the series next year,” added Israel, who saw Mankell several days before his death.

His publisher in France for 25 years, Anne Freyer, who had been due to meet him at a literary festival in southern France later this week, said she was “shattered” by news of his death.

Mankell leaves a widow Eva Bergman, 70, the daughter of Swedish cinema great Ingmar Bergman, and his son Jon. – AFP/Gal Branchereau

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