“Gripping, beautifully orchestrated. . . . Henning Mankell is an addictive writer.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review
The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to enliven your group’s discussion of Before the Frost
the gripping new novel by internationally bestselling author Henning Mankell.
Fans of Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series have two reasons to rejoice at the appearance of his new novel, Before the Frost
. Kurt Wallander is back, as good as ever, and now he is joined by his daughter Linda, who has just graduated from the police academy and is eager to begin her career–and to prove herself to her father.
In one of Mankell’s most compelling and suspenseful tales, Linda Wallander finds herself drawn into a plot that threatens the lives of two of her closest friends and, indeed, her own. Just a few days shy of officially joining the Ystad police force, she is given a vivid and terrifying preview of the difficulties and dangers of the work that awaits her. She expects to start out dealing with nothing more challenging than breaking up drunken street fights, but when her friend Anna Westin disappears, and when the police start receiving bizarre reports of animals–swans, a calf, cats in a pet store–being set on fire, followed by a grisly murder deep in the woods, Linda is plunged into the center of a case that seems as unsolvable as it is brutal. While Kurt Wallander tries to piece these macabre reports together, Linda undertakes her own investigation of Anna’s disappearance and learns that the friend she thought she knew so well is becoming increasingly difficult to fathom and trust. Soon a woman is found ritualistically murdered in a church, a mutual friend of Anna and Linda is abducted, and the case takes on a desperate urgency. Linda, her father, and the rest of the Ystad police are faced with an array of seemingly disconnected and motiveless crimes. As Linda and her father make the connections between them, they uncover an apocalyptic plan that has its beginnings in the 1978 mass suicide of Jim Jones’s followers in Guyana.
Bound up in these mysterious crimes are some essential human mysteries that Mankell explores with extraordinary psychological acumen–the father-daughter relationship, religious fanaticism, the search for meaning, and the ultimate unknowability of human beings, whether friends, family, or oneself.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. What kind of woman is Linda Wallander? In what ways is she both like and unlike her father? What is the appeal of reading about a policewoman in a genre dominated by men?
2. How does Before the Frost illuminate the growing religious violence around the world, from the Christian Right’s bombing of abortion clinics here in the United States to the Islamic fundamentalists campaign of terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere? What does the novel reveal about the motives and psychology of religious extremists?
3. In what ways does Linda Wallander prove herself throughout the novel? At which crucial moments does her willingness to trust her intuition enable her to make breakthroughs in the case? Could the case have been solved without Linda?
4. Throughout the novel, the reader knows more than the detectives who are trying to solve the case. Why does Mankell structure his narrative this way? Why doesn’t he leave readers in the dark? How does this tension between what readers know and what the characters know create suspense?
5. Some religious believers have long felt that direct communication with God is the highest form of spirituality. What does Before the Frost reveal about the dangers of claiming to know God’s will?
6. Erik Westin thinks, “I’m not crazy. . . . I put my trust in God and his plan” [p. 249]. And at the end of the novel Linda and her father conclude that Westin “was by no means a madman” [p. 365]. What is the difference between fanaticism and insanity? How closely linked are those traits in people like Erik Westin?
7. Late in the novel, Erik Westin says, “I could not have managed this without the help of Jim Jones” [p. 312]. What has he learned from Jones?
8. Why are Anna Westin, Tolgeir Langaas, and others so susceptible to people like Erik Westin? What do their lives lack that makes them long for something to believe in and an authority to submit to?
9. Linda finally sees that the mysterious phrase “myth fear” that she found in Anna’s journal was simply an anagram for “my father.” What is the significance of this anagram? What does “myth fear” have to do with Anna’s father? How do myth and fear operate in the novel?
10. How can Before the Frost be read as an exploration of the father-child relationship? How does Linda feel about her father? How does Anna feel about hers? How does Kurt Wallander feel about his own father? What does the novel as a whole seem to be saying about the significance of these relationships?
11. Henning Mankell’s novels are unusual in their exploration of emotional complexities, so that the crime-solving aspects of the stories are balanced by rich and full character development. How is this achieved? What does this element add to the story?
12. At the end of the novel, the police officers gather around the TV to see a special report on the terrorist attacks that have just happened in New York on September 11, 2001. Why doesn’t Mankell show readers their reaction or elaborate on the parallels between 9/11 and the religious violence occurring almost simultaneously in Sweden? What are those parallels?
13. When Linda hugs the desperate woman who she talked down from a rooftop, she had “the strangest feeling that she was hugging herself” [p. 374]. Why does Mankell end the novel with this episode? What kind of resolution does Linda achieve in this embrace?
About this Author
Internationally acclaimed author Henning Mankell has written numerous Kurt Wallander mysteries. The books have been published in thirty-three countries and consistently top the bestseller lists in Europe, receiving major literary prizes (including the UK’s Gold Dagger Award in 2002) and generating numerous international film and television adaptations. Born in a village in northern Sweden in 1948, Mankell divides his time between Sweden and Maputo, Mozambique, where he works as the director of Teatro Avenida.
Andrea Camilleri, Excursion to Tindari
; Kerstin Eckman, Blackwater
; Karin Fossum, Don’t Look Back
; Arnaldur Indridason, Silence of the Grave
; P. D. James, The Murder Room
; Henning Mankell, The Return of the Dancing Master
; Denise Mina, Garnethill
; Ruth Rendell, The Babes in the Wood
; Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, The Laughing Policeman
; Helene Tursten, Detective Inspector Huss