Who is Kurt Wallander?


Kurt Wallander, the enigmatic Swedish detective created by crime novelist Henning Mankell, is high on the list of reasons for the global obsession with horrific crimes in cold countries.

Our first impression of Wallander was the traditional stereotype of an experienced detective: depressed, exhausted, and a blank, vacant stare – caused by witnessing so many brutal, senseless murders. This combination of traits and his unorthodox style of police work just so happen to be extremely addictive.

Comparisons to characters such as Inspector Morse can be quickly drawn. With a penchant for heavy drinking and a life filled with difficult personal relationships, the similarities are easy to see. However, the differing backdrops of the cosy confines of Oxford and the bleak, grey Swedish landscape could not be more different.

In the TV series, Linda Wallander has grown up and joined the police force herself, bringing father and daughter closer together than ever before, but at the same time highlighting the strains of their relationship. He warns her about the personal sacrifices she will have to make, and that she could end up living the same life as he has, solving crimes beyond all reasonable limits.

The darkness of Wallander’s work, and the affect this has had on his personal life, is laid bare – he is consumed, obsessed and trapped by it. After being absent for so much of her childhood, Linda’s frosty reception to her father in the first episode comes as little surprise – it’s no shock that she is not thrilled to work with him. However, as the episodes continue, we can see their relationship strengthening. As Linda starts to experience life as a police officer, she starts to understand why her father was absent for so long. By the last series of films, our view of Wallander has changed – now a grandfather, we see him doting on Linda’s little girl, taking her for treats or picking her up from school (when he remembers). It seems as though he is desperate not to make the same mistake twice, to be present in his granddaughter’s life. Yet, the personal struggles continue, and he battles between putting family or work first.

There’s one thing which doesn’t change from the first time we meet him to the last – Wallander can be a very difficult person to be around. Both at work and with his family, the detective is seemingly bent on doing the opposite of what would be considered normal. In particular, his constant (and sometimes illegal) dodging of procedure make him a volatile and potentially toxic colleague.

It is Kurt Wallander’s vulnerability which is perhaps the biggest reason for his popularity. He is a middle-aged man whose life is at risk of falling apart, for different reasons throughout the series. We want to know if this will be the event that turns his life upside down, or if he can withstand just one more obstacle.

When considering the reason for the wider popularity of the Nordic Noir genre, these crime dramas share a focus on society and character which goes far beyond the traditional ‘whodunnit’ or routine police procedural. In the case of Wallander, he is the intense and headstrong wild card detective, who always carries maybe a little too much sympathy for the murderers he tracks down. This all together makes for a very unique and interesting character to watch.