Eight years after his barren but settled life was harrowed by a series of once-in-a-lifetime crises (Italian Shoes, 2009), ignominiously retired surgeon Fredrik Welin is beset by an even more traumatic event in this final novel by the creator of beloved police detective Kurt Wallander.
Awakening one night to find his house on fire, Welin has just enough time to don two boots before fleeing the inferno. The home built by his grandparents is a dead loss, along with everything inside it; even the pair of boots he grabbed wasn’t really a pair. Thinking of Louise, the daughter whose existence he never suspected until she was an adult, he reflects: “Did I want to rebuild the house or should I let Louise inherit the site of a fire?” That pivotal question is complicated by several other developments. Louise is a thief and perhaps a prostitute; she won’t tell Welin who fathered her baby; she’s arrested on a trip to Paris; and in the meantime, the local police have shown considerable interest in Welin as the leading suspect in what looks more and more like a case of arson. Even the new boots he orders turn out to be the wrong size. Only his growing friendship with journalist Lisa Modin seems to hold out any hope of renewal for Welin’s frozen life. Yet here too the path is strewn with difficulties: Lisa is a generation younger than Welin, she has baggage of her own, and it’s not at all obvious that she returns his romantic interest. No wonder Welin concludes, “There was no god in my caravan.” Yet amid all his ruminations and flashbacks and flirtations with despair, Mankell shows his unlikely hero’s indomitable will to survive and, if possible, to make the next chapter of his life an improvement on what’s gone before.
A bracing look at a twilight year in the life of an old man who, when confronted daily by perfectly good reasons for giving up altogether, doesn’t so much rise above as plow stoically through them.