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Henning Mankell was deeply engaged in social issues. ‘You have to act, not just by writing but by standing up and doing,’ he said.TT NEWS AGENCY/Reuters

Henning Mankell, the internationally renowned Swedish crime writer whose books about the gloomy, soul-searching police inspector Kurt Wallander enticed readers around the world, died early Monday, his publisher said. He was 67.

The hesitant figurehead of Scandinavian crime fiction, who last year revealed he had cancer, died in his sleep in the southwestern city of Goteborg, his publisher, Leopard, said in a statement on its website.

Mr. Mankell wrote some 50 novels and numerous plays, selling more than 40 million copies worldwide.

Following in the footsteps of the popular 1960s Swedish crime-writing duo of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, Mr. Mankell's Wallander series helped to define the Scandinavian genre that became known as Nordic noir. Set in the bleak landscapes of southern Sweden, the series drew on the dark, morally complex moods of its main protagonist and was heavily infused with social commentary.

Mr. Mankell was deeply engaged in social and political issues. Since the mid-1980s he had divided his time between Sweden and Mozambique, where he helped build a village for orphaned children to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS.

He was also among the activists who were attacked and arrested by Israeli forces as they tried to sail to the Gaza Strip with humanitarian supplies in June, 2010. In a confrontation with Israeli forces on one of the boats, nine people were killed. Mr. Mankell, who was on another vessel, was arrested and deported to Sweden.

"You have to act, not just by writing but by standing up and doing. For me, you cannot call yourself an intellectual if all you use your intellectual gifts for is to find excuses not to do anything. Which, sadly, is what I think a lot of intellectuals do," he told Britain's Guardian newspaper.

The first Wallander novel, Faceless Killers, was published in 1991, when Mr. Mankell was 43, and the series ended in 2009 with the 10th novel, The Troubled Man.

The books have been translated into more than 40 languages and sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. They have been adapted into films and TV series in Sweden and a popular BBC series, starring British actor Kenneth Branagh.

Mr. Branagh described Mr. Mankell as "a man of passionate commitment," who leaves an "immense contribution" to Scandinavian literature.

"Those privileged to know him, together with readers from all over the world, will mourn a fine writer and a fine man," Mr. Branagh said in a statement Monday.

Mr. Mankell's international success paved the way for other Scandinavian authors, including The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo author Stieg Larsson and Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo.

Yet Mr. Mankell disliked talking about the Scandinavian crime-fiction phenomenon and said he was mostly influenced by Sherlock Holmes and classical Greek drama.

"It was never my intention to write crime novels as such, but to use the crime as a sort of mirror of a society and of a time. That is my starting point and I know that very many of those who are called crime writers today, they don't do that," he said in a 2009 interview .

Mr. Mankell was born in Stockholm on Feb. 3, 1948, the son of judge Ivar Mankell and librarian Birgitta, but his mother abandoned the family when he was only a year old. He said that it was a "terrible thing for a child to deal with" and that he couldn't get over disliking his mother, when he met her again at 15, for what she had done. She later died by suicide.

He, his father and older sister, Helena, lived in the courthouse in the town of Sveg in central Sweden, where his father was a judge, and young Henning grew up listening to grown-ups' discussions about crime and punishment.

As a boy he read books about Africa, the most exotic place he could imagine, and decided to go there one day. He has said he started dreaming of becoming an author from the day his grandmother taught him how to write.

Hoping to emulate Joseph Conrad, he dropped out of school at 16 and went to sea in the Swedish merchant marine. He later described that period, loading and unloading ships in the hard-working community, as his "real university."

But he quit the merchant marine when, after numerous voyages, he got no farther than the British port of Middlesbrough. At 19, a play he had written was produced in Stockholm. A year later, he was named an assistant theatre director and travelled around the country with touring productions.

Mr. Mankell released his first novel in 1973, The Rock Blaster, which was set in the midst of a workers' union movement.

With the money he got from the book he bought a ticket to Guinea-Bissau in Africa and set off on a journey to realize his childhood dream. The trip would mark the start of his lifelong relationship with the continent.

"I don't know why but when I got off the plane in Africa, I had a curious feeling of coming home," he later wrote.

After that he spent a big part of his life in Africa, living in countries including Zambia and Mozambique, and in 1986 he started to work as artistic leader at Teatro Avenida in Mozambique's capital, Maputo.

Back in Sweden in the 1990s, he worked as head of a small theatre in the town of Vaxjo. In addition to the Wallander series, he also wrote a number of children's books and independent novels, including The Eye of the Leopard (1990) and The Man from Beijing (2008).

Mr. Mankell eventually tired of Wallander.

He ended the detective's career in The Troubled Man, in which Wallander bows out of the police force because of Alzheimer's disease. "I shall not miss Wallander," he told The Guardian in 2013.

But his readers and many reviewers did.

"Detective Chief Inspector Kurt Wallander has solved his last case," Marilyn Stasio lamented in a 2011 New York Times review. "Making this news more bitter, the alcoholic, diabetic, anti-social and perpetually dour Swedish detective is at his gloomy best in The Troubled Man."

Income from his novels and their screen adaptations made Mr. Mankell a multimillionaire. He married and divorced three times before his final lasting marriage in 1998 with Eva Bergman, the daughter of film legend Ingmar Bergman ("It shows I am an optimist," he told The Guardian).

Together the couple worked with various charities in Africa. He was particularly involved in a project in Uganda of "memory books," in which parents dying of AIDS recorded their life stories for their children.

He leaves his wife and son, Jon Mankell.

"My driving force is, I guess, the same as all artists and authors," Mr. Mankell told the Associated Press.

"To try to understand the time and the world one lives in. Like most other people, I want to know why I have lived by the time I die."

Associated Press with files from New York Times News Service

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