The Return of the Dancing Master, p.1Henning Mankell
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Henning Mankell was born in Stockholm in 1948. He is the prize-winning author of the eight novels in the Inspector Wallander series which has been translated into many languages and consistently tops the best-seller lists throughout Europe. His novel Sidetracked won the CWA Gold Dagger in 2001. Mankell has worked as an actor, theatre director and manager in Sweden and in Mozambique, where he is head of Teatro Avenida in Maputo.
Laurie Thomson was the editor of the influential Swedish Book Review from its founding in 1983 until 2002. He has translated many authors from Swedish including three of the Wallander novels.
ALSO BY HENNING MANKELL
The Dogs of Riga
The White Lioness
The Fifth Woman
One Step Behind
OF THE DANCING
Translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson
This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
Epub ISBN 9781407017839
Published by Vintage 2004
Copyright © Henning Mankell, 2000 and 2003
English translation copyright © Laurie Thompson, 2003
Henning Mankell has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
First published in Great Britain in 2003 by The Harvill Press
First published with the title Danslärarens återkomst by Ordfront Förlag, Stockholm, 2000
Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road
London SW1V 2SA
Addresses for companies within The Random House Group Limited can be found at: www.randomhouse.co.uk/offices.htm
The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Maps drawn by Reg Piggott
About the Author
Also by Henning Mankell
Prologue: Germany / December 1945
I Härjedalen / October–November 1999
II The man from Buenos Aires / October–November 1999
III The woodlice / November 1999
Epilogue: Inverness / April 2000
Germany / December 1945
The plane took off from the aerodrome near London shortly after 2 p.m. It was December 12, 1945. It was drizzling and chilly. Occasional gusts set the wind sock fluttering, then all was calm again. The aircraft was a four-engined Lancaster bomber that had made countless sorties over German airspace since it came into service. It had been hit several times by German fighters and forced to make emergency landings, but they had always managed to patch it up and send it back into the fray. Now it was used for transport jobs, taking essential supplies to British troops stationed in defeated and devastated Germany.
Mike Garbett, the Flight Lieutenant, had been told that he would fly a passenger to somewhere called Bückeburg. The passenger would then be picked up and flown back to England the following evening. Who he was and why he was going to Germany, Perkins, his immediate superior, did not tell him, nor did he ask. Even though the war was over, he sometimes had the impression that it was still going on. Secret missions were not unusual.
After being issued with his flight instructions, he was sitting in one of the messes with officer Peter Foster, and the navigator, Chris Wiffin. They spread out the maps on a table. The airfield was some miles outside the town of Hamelin. Garbett had never been there, but Foster was familiar with it. The approach should not be a problem. The only potential difficulty was fog. Wiffin went off to consult the weather boffins, and came back with the news that clear skies were expected over northern and central Germany all afternoon and evening. They plotted their route, worked out how much fuel they would need, and rolled up the maps.
“We’ll have just the one passenger,” Garbett said. “I’ve no idea who he is.”
Nobody asked any questions, nor did he expect any. He’d been flying with Foster and Wiffin for three months. What united them was that they were survivors. Many RAF crew had fallen in the war, and each of them had lost many friends. Having survived was not only a source of relief: they were also dogged by the sense of having been granted the life denied to their dead comrades.
Shortly before 2 p.m. a closed car drove in through the gate. Foster and Wiffin were already aboard the big Lancaster, going through the final checks before take-off. Garbett was waiting on the cracked concrete apron. He frowned when he saw that their passenger was in civvies. The man who emerged from the back seat was short. In his mouth was an unlit cigar. He took a black suitcase from the boot just as Perkins drove up in his jeep. The man who was to be flown to Germany had his hat pulled down and Garbett could not see his eyes. Something about him made Garbett feel uncomfortable. When Perkins introduced them, the passenger mumbled his name. Garbett didn’t catch what he said.
“Right, you can take off now,” Perkins said.
“No more luggage?” Garbett said.
The man shook his head.
“It’s probably best not to smoke during the flight,” Garbett said. “This is an old crate. There could be leaks. You don’t usually notice aviation fuel fumes until it’s too late.”
The man made no reply. Garbett helped him aboard. There were three uncomfortable metal seats in the plane, which was otherwise empty. The man sat down and placed his suitcase between his legs. Garbett wondered what valuable he was about to fly into Germany.
Once they were in the air Garbett banked to the left until he was able to settle into the course Wiffin had set for him. When they had
The landing at Bückeburg went smoothly, despite the fact that it was dark and the lighting dim. A car guided the aircraft to the edge of the long operations building. Several military vehicles were already standing by. Garbett prepared to help the passenger off the plane, but when he reached for the suitcase the man insisted on taking it himself. He got into one of the cars and the convoy drove off immediately. Wiffin and Foster had clambered to the ground and watched the rear lights fade away. It was cold, and they were shivering.
“Makes you wonder what’s going on,” Wiffin said.
“Best not to ask,” Garbett said.
He pointed to a jeep approaching the aircraft. “We’re putting up at a base near here,” he said. “I assume that’s our car.”
After they’d been allocated their quarters and had their evening meal, some of the mechanics suggested they go into town for a beer in one of the bars that had survived the bombing. Wiffin and Foster agreed at once, but Garbett felt tired and stayed in camp. He had trouble getting to sleep, and lay awake wondering who their passenger was. What was in that suitcase he hadn’t let anybody else touch? The passenger must be on some secret mission. All Garbett had to do was to fly him back home the following day. The rest was not his concern. He looked at his watch. Midnight already. He adjusted his pillow and when Wiffin and Foster got back at around 1 a.m., he was fast asleep.
Donald Davenport left the British prison for German war criminals soon after 11 p.m. He had a room in a hotel that served as a base for British officers stationed in Hamelin. He needed some sleep if he were going to carry out his duties efficiently the following day. He was a little uneasy about officer MacManaman, his nominated assistant. Davenport disliked working with people unused to the job. All manner of things could go wrong, especially when the assignment was as big as the one in store.
He declined the offer of a cup of tea and went straight to his room. He sat at the desk and sorted the notes he’d made during the meeting that had begun half an hour after his arrival. The first paper he addressed, however, was the typewritten document he’d received from a young major by the name of Stuckford, who was in charge of the operation.
He smoothed out the paper, adjusted the desk lamp and read the names. Kramer, Lehmann, Heider, Volkenrath, Grese … Twelve in all, three women, nine men. He studied the data on their weight and height, and made a few more notes. It was a slow process. His professional pride required him to be absolutely meticulous. It was 1.30 by the time he put down his pen. Now he had it all sorted. He’d made his calculations and double-checked them. He had overlooked nothing. He checked again, just to be certain. He got up from the desk, sat on his bed and opened his suitcase. Although he never forgot anything, he checked to make sure everything was in place. He took out a clean shirt, closed the case, then washed in the cold water that was all the hotel had to offer.
He never had any difficulty in dropping off to sleep.
When they knocked at his door just after 5 a.m., he was already up and dressed. They had a light breakfast and then drove through the dark, drab town to the prison. MacManaman was waiting for them. He was deathly pale, and Davenport wondered again whether he would be up to the job. Stuckford seemed to sense Davenport’s misgivings, took him on one side and told him that although MacManaman might look shattered, he wouldn’t let anybody down.
By 11 a.m. everything was ready. Davenport had chosen to start with the women. Their cells were in the corridor closest to the gallows and they could not have avoided hearing the trapdoor open. He wanted to spare them that. Davenport paid no mind to the crimes of the individual prisoners. It was his own sense of decency that made him start with the women.
All those required to be present had taken up their positions. Davenport nodded to Stuckford, who signalled to one of the warders. Orders were barked, keys were rattled, a cell door opened. Davenport waited.
The first to appear was Irma Grese. A fleeting sensation of surprise disturbed Davenport’s icy calm. How could this slight, blonde 22-year-old possibly have whipped prisoners to death at the Belsen concentration camp? She was hardly more than a child. But when her sentence had been passed, no-one had been in any doubt. She looked him in the eye, then glanced up at the gallows. The warders led her up the steps. Davenport adjusted her feet so that they were immediately above the trapdoor, and placed the noose round her neck while checking to make sure MacManaman made no mistake with the leather strap he was fastening around her legs. Just before Davenport pulled the hood over her head he heard her utter one scarcely audible word: “Schnell!”
MacManaman took a step back and Davenport reached for the handle that operated the trapdoor. She fell down straight, and Davenport knew he’d calculated the length of the rope correctly. Long enough to break her neck, not so long that her head would be wrenched from her body. He and MacManaman went down under the scaffold on which the gallows were standing and, once the British Medical Officer had listened for her heartbeat and confirmed death, he released the body. The corpse was put onto a stretcher and carried away. Davenport knew that graves had been dug in the prison yard. He went back up onto the scaffold and checked in his papers the length of rope he should allow for the next woman. When he was ready he nodded to Stuckford again and before long Elisabeth Volkenrath was standing in the doorway, her hands tied behind her back. She was dressed exactly as Irma Grese, in a grey smock that reached down below her knees.
Three minutes later she too was dead.
The executions took two hours and seven minutes. Davenport had reckoned on two and a quarter hours. MacManaman had done everything expected of him. All had gone according to plan. Twelve German war criminals had been put to death. Davenport packed the rope and the leather straps into his suitcase, and said goodbye to officer MacManaman.
“Come and have a glass of brandy. You did a good job.”
“They deserved all they got,” MacManaman said. “I don’t need any brandy.”
Davenport left the prison with Stuckford. He wondered whether it might be possible to go back to England earlier than planned – he was the one who recommended the return flight be in the evening, in case anything went wrong. Not even Davenport, England’s most experienced hangman, was in the habit of executing twelve people in one day. But in the end he decided to stick with the arrangements.
Stuckford took him to the hotel dining room and ordered lunch. They had a side room to themselves. Stuckford had a wound that caused him still to limp with his left foot. Davenport approved of him, not least because he asked no unnecessary questions. There was nothing Davenport disliked more than people asking him what it had been like, hanging this or that criminal who’d become notorious after being written about in the newspapers. They exchanged pleasantries as they ate, about the weather, and if the English would be awarded extra rations of tea or tobacco for Christmas, not far away now.
Only over a cup of tea, afterwards, did Stuckford refer to what had happened that morning.
“There’s one thing that worries me,” he said. “People forget it could just as easily have been the other way round.”
Davenport wasn’t sure what Stuckford meant, but he had no need to ask. Stuckford provided an explanation himself. “A German hangman flying to England to execute English war criminals. Young English women beating people to death in a concentration camp. We could just as easily have been overwhelmed by evil as the Germans were, in the form of Hitler and Nazism.”
Davenport didn’t respond. He was waiting for what came next.
“No people is inherently evil. On this occasion the Nazis happened to be Germans, but nobody is going to convince me that it couldn’t have happened just as easily in England. Or France. Or the USA, come to that.”
Stuckford refilled their cups.
“We execute the worst of the criminals,” Stuckford went on. “The really monstrous war criminals. But we also know that lots of them are getting away with it. Like Josef Lehmann’s brother.”
Lehmann was the last to be hanged that morning. A little man who’d met his death placidly, almost nonchalantly.
“He had an exceptionally brutal brother,” Stuckford said. “But that brother succeeded in making himself invisible. Maybe he’s slipped away through one of the Nazis’ escape routes. He could be in Argentina or South Africa, and we’ll never track him down there.”
They sat in silence. Outside the window rain was now falling.
“Waldemar Lehmann was an incredibly sadistic man,” Stuckford said. “It wasn’t just that he was ruthless with the prisoners, he also took a devilish delight in teaching his subordinates the art of torturing people. We should have hanged him, as we did his brother. But we haven’t caught him. Not yet, anyway.”
Davenport returned to the aerodrome at 5 p.m. He was cold, even though he was wearing his thick winter overcoat. The pilot was standing by the plane, waiting for him. Davenport wondered what he was thinking. He took his seat in the chilly fuselage and turned up his coat collar to shield him from the roar of the engines.
Garbett settled in the cockpit, the Lancaster gathered speed and flew into the clouds.
Davenport had completed his assignment. He had justified his reputation as England’s most accomplished hangman.
The aircraft tossed and shuddered its way through some air pockets. Davenport reflected on what Stuckford had said about the ones who had got away. And he thought about Lehmann deriving pleasure from teaching people the most horrific forms of torture. He pulled his overcoat more tightly around him. The air pockets were behind them now. The Lancaster was on its way back home to England. The day had gone without a hitch. None of the prisoners had struggled on being led to the scaffold. Nobody’s neck had been severed. Davenport was content. He could look forward to three days’ holiday. His next job would be hanging a murderer in Manchester.
The Return of the Dancing Master by Henning Mankell / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes