Henning Mankell’s ‘Firewall’

Henning Mankell’s ‘Firewall’

From time to time I re-read detective novels that I enjoyed in the past. This is quite distinct from a second read just after the first. In the first read, we are carried along by the momentum of the story and miss subtleties in the way the story is told. A second read allows many of the details and the craftsmanship of the author to be appreciated.

Ystad Railway Station building

Only a small part of building is now used by the Railways. Much of the rest is now a bed and breakfast. It was one of three buildings used on TV to represent the Police Station.

‘Firewall’ was the last of 8 original Kurt Wallandar novels, based in Ystad, written by Mankell in the 1990s. There were films of them made in Swedish starring Rolf Lassgård, starting in the mid-1990s. These films were mostly shot around Stockholm. A later development was the Swedish TV films starring Krister Henriksson and the English language ones starring Kenneth Branagh. The shooting of all these were based in Ystad Studios and used Ystad locations extensively. The Henriksson ones go far beyond the original books, though Mankell was involved and suggested original story lines. Mankell did write several more books which either extended Wallandar’s story or included characters from it. He died in 2015.

‘Firewall’ was written about 20 years ago, and is revealed to be about a global computer cracking conspiracy, and by implication, how much we depend upon computers for our daily lives. The remarkable thing is how little it shows its age. The references to backing up or moving data using diskettes is archaic; nowadays this would be done copying data to thumb drive or an external hard disk drive or sending it to a server, either on a local network or by the internet – using The Cloud. The other slightly false note it strikes is descriptions of blocks of characters scrolling rapidly up the screen, which is a visual convention in films and TV programmes about computer cracking. I doubt if it happens much nowadays, or even did all that much in the past. Mankell, after all, was a man of the theatre.

This time I also followed much of the geography of the story, using Google Maps to follow up street names. I spent a day in Ystad in August 2015, helped by location maps provided by the tourist office; so much of the layout of the town was familiar to me. The maps show not only the locations mentioned in the books, but also other locations using in filming the stories. For instance three different buildings were used to represent the police station – none of them the actual police station! So even when a location in the book was not findable in Google Maps, I still had a rough idea of where it was.

The ideas in the book remain up to date. We are very aware that we have a globally interdependent finance and banking system, and this was brought home to us in 2008. The idea of cyber warfare and interference with other countries electoral systems emerged again in 2016, and was in the news on Friday in France. The driving idea of the villains that international finance and politics were so corrupt that the whole system had to be rebooted is almost exactly what Al Qaeda would say.

Televised interviews with Mankell shows him speaking very thoughtfully in perfect English, with perhaps the mildest hint of what might be a Dublin accent. I can almost hear him, when some new cyber outrage occurs, saying ‘I told you so.’

Printed (distributed) by Automattic Inc. 132 Hawthorne St. San Francisco, CA 94107. Published and promoted by G.R.Potter on behalf of I.V.Sanderson (Liberal Democrats),both at 11 Cedric Avenue,ROMFORD, RM1 4JL.

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