The hesitant figurehead of Scandinavian crime fiction, who last year revealed he had cancer, died in the south-western city of Gothenburg, his publisher, Leopard, said in a statement on its website.
Mankell’s novels and plays have sold more than 40m copies worldwide.
Following in the footsteps of the popular 1960s Swedish crime-writing duo of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, Mankell’s Wallander series helped 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.
Mankell himself 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.
The first Wallander novel, Faceless Killers, was published in 1991 and the series was made complete in 2009 with the 10th novel, The Troubled Man. The books have been translated into more than 40 languages and have sold more than 30m copies worldwide.
They have been adapted into films and TV series in Sweden and a popular BBC series, starring Sir Kenneth Branagh.