THE PYRAMID: THE KURT WALLANDER STORIES Henning Mankell Harvill Secker, £17.99
Now we know what Inspector Wallander was up to before he appeared fully formed and melancholy at 40 in 1990. Five cases take us from his patrolman days in 1969 to the very day the sequence of novels begins. We trace his education as an investigator as well as his family background. Fog is threaded through these stories and serves as a metaphor for Wallander's mind as he gropes for solutions to a series of baffling deaths. Satisfactorily gloomy.
Also try: The Laughing Policeman, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
ANARCHY AND OLD DOGS
From Thorndyke to Scarpetta, the medical sleuth has been a staple of crime fiction, but none is quite like Dr Siri Paiboun, 73-year-old coroner of the People's Republic of Laos (circa 1977), whose detecting methods combine shamanism with a worship of Maigret. A post-mortem examination on a blind dentist leads to the discovery of an anti-government plot, taking in much local colour, much drinking of rice wine and not a little humour. And, as with recent Chinese novels, there is that fascinating – and often fatal – clash between Communism and an ancient culture.
Also try: Bangkok 8, John Burdett
THE WINTER GROUND
Hodder & Stoughton, 19.99
Dandy Gilver, McPherson's snobby Perthshire laird's wife and amateur sleuth, is asked to investigate the suspicious death of a circus rider but finds herself bogged down in the internal politicking of the performers – as does this common reader: the author loses the plot a bit through her fascination with circus language and lore (she has a PhD in linguistics). Her strength is in recreating the period (1925) and wittily anatomising the county set. Less circus and more Scottish Field, please.
Also try: The Last Houseparty, Peter Dickinson