Despite 30 years of down-and-dirty police work, there are some things Swedish Chief Inspector Kurt Wallander’s never seen, and he finds the murder of an Ystad cab driver by two middle-class girls, one barely a teenager, impossible to accept, depressing enough to generate first-time thoughts of quitting. The meaninglessness of the crime, the girls’ bland resistance to anything resembling guilt, has him projecting onto them a final breakdown of civility and everything that implies. “We live in a vulnerable society,” he tells himself darkly. But the killing is not the uncomplicated act of savagery it seemed at the outset. It turns out to have links to other cold-blooded murders and beyond them to the kind of quintessential 21st-century conspiracy a traditional cop—even one as skilled as Wallander—isn’t equipped to plumb. He can only conclude dispiritedly that “we’re hunting electronic elk.” Even out of his depth, though, Wallander still retains an unquenchable curiosity wrapped in a spirit of pure bulldog—a relentlessness that prevents crimes in his bailiwick, even those he doesn’t understand, from going unsolved. Relying on help from unlikely sources and ad hoc alliances to shore up his acknowledged information-age shortcomings, he catches the perps, foils the conspirators, and brings all concerned to justice—though not before suffering painfully himself from betrayal, that most bitter and old-fashioned of crimes.
Though the case is as overstuffed as you’d expect from exhaustive Mankell (The Fifth Woman, 2000, etc), resolute Wallander, lonely, unhappy, even at times desperate, is as magnetic as ever.