The early adventures of Kurt Wallander, that most human of all fictional detectives, are revealed in a collection of short mysteries.
In 1969, the time of “Wallander’s First Case,” the melancholy Swede is a callow 21. Eager to please, his sleuthing talent still embryonic, he stumbles into a solution. By 1975, the Wallander of “The Man with the Mask,” who’s clearly grown more comfortable in his professional skin, confronts and collars the crazed killer of a harmless old shopkeeper. “The Man on the Beach,” set in 1987, is a variation on the locked-room mystery. By this time the hero is 40, ruefulness has set in and Wallander has begun to think of himself as “a police officer from another age.” “The Death of the Photographer,” set a year later, is noteworthy mostly because nonviolent Wallander comes close to killing a man. In “The Pyramid,” the last, longest and best of these prequels, Wallander has full-blown weltschmerz. It’s 1989 and the chief inspector frets about his health, worries about going bald, misses his divorced wife, battles his cunning father (hilariously), yearns to be closer to his daughter and tries to end a soul-draining love affair while he skillfully, relentlessly pursues a slick, remorseless drug dealer.
Four OK stories capped by a perfect gem of a novella, “The Pyramid,” which no fan of Wallander (The Man Who Smiled, 2006, etc.) should miss.