Italian Shoes, By Henning Mankell

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The Independent Culture

Frederick Welin is the sole inhabitant of an island off the coast of Sweden. He speaks to no one but the postman, and little enough to him. Every day he cuts a hole in the ice near the jetty and jumps into the freezing water; a rite of self-mortification that makes him feel, briefly, alive. Then, one morning, he sees a figure struggling across the ice towards his house – a woman he has not seen for 30 years...

Henning Mankell is famous as the author of the Wallander series of mysteries, and something of the detective-writer's craft – the slow reveal, the gradual emergence of events buried in the past – is evident here. We learn the reasons behind Frederick's self-imposed exile, while, from his ex-lover, he receives revelations that make him rethink his whole way of life. The cool, enigmatic tone is reminiscent of Paul Auster.

The second half lacks some of the mystery and momentum of the first (not an uncommon fault in novels), and the style also seems to become more direct and declarative. Still, Mankell does keep a surprise or two up his sleeve for the finish.