I’ve just watched The Leak, another episode in the Swedish TV series of Wallander, and it reinforced my view that the success of Wallander does owe quite a lot to the power of the opening scenes. In this one, a man is jogging through a forest. He comes across a chap with a gun, pauses for a look, and then jogs on. Unwisely, I thought, he stops for a breather, and is duly shot.
It’s a chilling start to the story, and it’s somehow rather typical of the Wallander series. Almost every episode begins with a dramatic and frightening scene, and after that it is virtually impossible to resist the temptation to keep watching. In this case, the victim was not important to the story – which is about a series of high value security van robberies. But you want to know what the killer was up to, and whether he will get away with it.
If it’s true that a tv show needs a striking opening, it’s almost equally true of a novel. Page one counts. In fact, paragraph one counts, and so, certainly, does sentence one. Unless one’s attention is grabbed from the outset, there is a real likelihood that one will move on to something else that is more immediately appealing.
Of course, a good beginning does not mean that the whole story is worth watching or reading. But it is an important tool in the writer’s box. In The Leak, I’m glad to say, the rest of the story lived up to the promise of that bleak beginning. The story developed into a parable about the choices, good and bad, that people make, and I thought it was one of the highlights of the series. As usual, Krister Henriksson was excellent, but the whole team played a part in the unfolding of events, to great effect.