Swedish novelist and playwright Henning Mankel died of cancer on Monday at the age of 67.
The author of 80 works, spanning both novels and plays, Mankel was perhaps best known for his noir fiction and the character Kurt Wallander, who acted as the protagonist in 10 separate books. Wallander has become an internationally known fictional figure, as the series sold millions of copies in dozens of translations.
Abandoned by his mother as a child, Mankell and his siblings lived with their father, a judge in Northern Sweden. This, combined with his brief stint with the merchant navy when he was 16, culminated in him taking a job as a stagehand. Soon after, he published his debut novel “The Rock Blast,” that took into account his personal experiences.
Often feeling limited by genre restrictions, Mankel told The Guardian, “I could never write a crime story just for the sake of it, because I always want to talk about certain things.”
He also cited John Le Carre as a major influence.
“[Le Carre] investigates the contradictions inside man, between men and between man and society; and I hope to do the same,” he said to The Guardian.
First appearing in the 1991 book “Faceless Killers,” Wallander’s offbeat personality and sensitivity led him to becoming a beloved figure, even bringing tourists to Ystad, Sweden, the setting of many of the stories. A fair few of his books were adapted into television series: a BBC program starring Kenneth Branagh, and another adaptation in Sweden, where Wallander was portrayed by Krister Henriksson.
In a statement about Mankell’s passing, Branagh said, “In life and in art Henning Mankell was a man of passionate commitment. I will miss his provocative intelligence and his great personal generosity. Aside from his stringent political activism, and his decades of work in Africa, he also leaves an immense contribution to Scandinavian literature.”
Many of the novels raised issues that sprung up from social commentary, laid under the crime narrative. Mankell infused his beliefs into the works, many of which stemmed from his efforts in Africa where he was an artistic director of a theater in Mozambique.
In an interview with NPR, Mankell said of his unexpected 2014 diagnosis, “It was a catastrophe for me. Everything that was normal to me up to that point was gone all of a sudden. No one had died of cancer in my family. I had always assumed I’d die of something else.”
He is survived by his wife, Eva Bergman, who is the daughter of Ingmar Bergman, and his son, film producer Jon Mankell.