Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Book
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
careerand 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 animalsswans, a calf, cats in a pet storebeing 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 acumenthe
father-daughter relationship, religious fanaticism, the search for
meaning, and the ultimate unknowability of human beings, whether
friends, family, or oneself.
- 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?
- 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
- 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?
- 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
- 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?
- 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?
- 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
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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
- 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?
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,
Ruth Rendell, The Babes in the Wood; Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö,
The Laughing Policeman; Helene Tursten, Detective Inspector
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