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Firewall is a compelling readPosted: August 17, 2012

Mankell, Henning (2002).’Firewall’

Book Review

By Derryll White

As with all of Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series, the reader of this novel starts out wondering where the book is going to go. Regular readers know that it will involve growth and change in Inspector Wallander’s life – each volume does.  And they will trust that some aspect of Sweden’s social/political scene will also be dealt with. Mankell never shirks from exploring the collapse of Sweden’s social support network or the changing attitudes of the Swedish people. For me these two elements are what makes Mankell particularly interesting as a writer.  The fact that many of his perceptions are mirrored in Canada’s lazy acceptance of harder conservative political values I consider a bonus.

In ‘Firewall’ the title gives the main thrust of the story away. Wallender, a man in his 50s and not computer-literate, is thrown into a complex case revolving around world finances and computer vulnerability. Mankell is skilled in placing his trust in human reason as opposed to the wonders of cyberspace. At the same time, he gives a definite nod to Sweden’s substrate of computer hackers, some of the most accomplished in the world.

There are several things in this novel that I found noteworthy. Foremost is the implicit understanding that some people feel that the political system is no longer able to govern global financial capital. There is a sense that individuals need to take direct action outside of politics. The second thing that strikes me is that Mankell points out how vulnerable and blind we all are. We all want love and respect, and we often have a hard time holding on to either of these possibilities. Mankell recognizes that many, if not all, of his readers experience periods of intense loneliness in their lives. For me he is very effective at pointing this out.

I found ‘Firewall’ a compelling read. Sitting here in Ystad, a 13th century town in Sweden, and connected via the internet to friends in Cranbrook and elsewhere, the novel’s thesis of societal vulnerability through cyberspace seems oh so real.  I suggest you read this novel.

********

HACKERS – “I tried to see if they had anything in common, the point one is always searching for.”

“What point would that be?”

“The point of weakness.  The one spot where someone could enter the system without anyone noticing.”

TERRORISM – Taking out the global financial network would be the ultimate act of sabotage,” Martinsson said.

SOCIAL CHANGE – During the past three decades a  society had been emerging which he did not fully recognize.  In his work he was forever confronted with the consequences of brutal forces that hurled people to the outer margins.  The walls surrounding these outcasts were dauntingly high: drugs, unemployment, social indifference.

POWER – “Everyone talks about power,” she said when Wallender had finished.  “But no one really questions institutions like the World Bank, or the enormous influence they wield.  How much human suffering have they caused?”

WOMEN – “Women aren’t needed in the work force any more.  That era is over.”

CHANGE – “But you should know.  Young girls are slowly starting to see through the messages society sends them.  When they work out they aren’t needed, that in fact they’re superfluous, they react just as viciously as boys.  And go on to commit crimes, among other things.”

PERCEPTION – Many years ago Rydberg had taught him how to listen: each room had its own life and breath.  You have to listen for it.  A room can tell you many secrets about the person who lives there.

ELECTRICITY – Every time the power went out and he was out looking for the problem, he was stuck by the same thought: that as little as a hundred years ago this impenetrable darkness had been the norm.  The advent of electricity had changed everything.  No-one now living could remember what life had been like before electricity.  But he would also think about how vulnerable society had become.

Photos by Derryll White

SWEDEN – Sweden has become a place people try to escape from, he thought.  The ones who can afford to.  And those who can’t afford it join the hordes who scavenge for enough money to leave.  How had that happened?  What had changed?

CONSULTANTS – She looked at him with surprise.  “The whole country is run by consultants nowadays.  Soon even party leaders will be replaced by consultants.  Consultants are highly paid outsiders who fly around to various companies and come up with solutions for their problems.  If things go badly, they get the blame, but they’re well rewarded for their suffering.”

SELF KNOWLEDGE – “One has to be able to trust people,” he said.  “Or rather, one has to be able to rely on one’s own judgment.”

MEN – Wallender looked at her with interest.  “And what is it that men are like?”

“…Men are often childish and vain, although they deny it.”

WORLD BANK – He too marched in the anti-war demonstrations.  But he had never believed in the potential of civil disobedience to reshape the world.  Nor did he believe in the small and squabbling socialist organizations.  He had come to the conclusion that the world had to be changed from within existing social structures.  If you were going to try to shift the balance of power, you had to stay close to its source.

LIFE – With hindsight Carter had often marveled at the mixture of conscious decision and random coincidence that shaped a person’s life.

CYBERSPACE – Through Falk he had come to understand that he who controlled electronic communication controlled everything.  Electronic signals could eliminate the enemy’s stock markets and telecom networks.  The days of nuclear submarines were over.  Future threats would come barreling down the miles of fibre-optic cables that were now entangling the world like a spider’s web.

WORLD BANK – It had taken him almost two years to see that what the bank was doing was wrong.  Instead of helping the country to gain true independence and enable the rebuilding of the war-torn land, the bank merely served to protect the very rich.

HUMANITY – I had a feeling he meant that humankind wasn’t worth it any longer.  That man’s animal nature was taking over….

RACISM – His name was El Sayed and he came originally from Tunisia.  He was the first policeman with an immigrant background to have worked in Ystad.  Wallender had been worried that El Sayed would meet with hostility and prejudice….  As it turned out his fears had been justified.

THE FERRIES – As Wallender was climbing down the steep companionway into the engine room he had a strong sense of descending into an inferno.  The ferry was docked and the noise from below had died down to an even hum, but he still felt as though there were a hell down there waiting for him.

HACKERS – It really is like being on a stalking expedition, he thought.  We’re out stalking electronic elk.  We know they’re there.  But we don’t know what direction they’re going to come from.  [Wallender]

GLOBAL CAPITALISM – “When I was out to se you last, you told me about your computer transactions.  I came away with the impression then that there were no limits really to what you could do.”

“That’s right.  If you connect to the large databases around the world then you’re at the centre of things, wherever you are yourself.”

CYBERSPACE – The electronic world is so complicated and is changing so fast that I doubt there’s anyone out there who understands it completely.  Or who has control over it.

DISCRETION – “Perhaps he wanted to hide something.  The cuckoo hides his eggs in other birds’ nests.”

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