The creator of police detective Kurt Wallander presents a tale of mortal reckoning in which all the deaths are natural but none the less powerful.
After he lost his surgical license over a disastrous mistake, Fredrik Welin retired to a remote archipelago where he had only half a dozen neighbors and the three miles to the Swedish mainland were iced over when winter came. With his only company a dog, a cat and the anthill that’s been taking shape for years in his living room, he ekes out a frozen life without letters, without regrets over his two failed marriages and, evidently, without much thought for anything except the cold. He scorns the discount coupons the postal carrier brings him: “Life is basically about something more important. I don’t know what exactly.” All that changes with the unexpected, unwanted arrival of Harriet Hörnfeldt, the lover Welin abandoned a generation ago when he left for an American post without a word of farewell. The fatally ill Harriet’s demand that Welin take her to see the forest pool he’d described to her so long ago is only the first stage in a journey that will break up the ice that’s armored Welin’s heart for so long. His newfound, urgent and troubled return to the world of others will involve a homeless spaniel on the mainland; an Italian craftsman who takes four months to make a pair of shoes; a fraught meeting with Harriet’s daughter; a reunion with the patient whose life he ruined; and an Iranian refugee girl who’s nothing but trouble, even to herself. The tone throughout is elegiac—someone always seems to be dying, even as Welin is surging back to life—yet quietly hopeful, with each step forward a hard-won victory over winter’s freeze.
Mankell (The Eye of the Leopard, 2008, etc.) provides a moving test of Welin’s belief that “people are close to each other so that they can be parted.”