The head of homicide in Ystad, Sweden, is Chief Inspector Kurt Wallander—a good cop, a good man, but not exactly prepossessing. At 43, he’s paunchy, balding, subject to periods of self-doubt and almost chronic angst—intensified by the event that kicks off the sixth of his adventures (out of eight) to be published here. Two expensively clad corpses wash up on the south coast of Sweden, three bullets in each chest. They’re Latvian corpses, Russian Mafia–connected, executed gangland-style by other well-connected bad guys to the extreme titillation of the Swedish media and the growing discomfort of Wallander and his team. But then a Latvian detective turns up: bright, paunchy Major Liepa, whom Wallander recognizes instantly as a kindred spirit. After a day or so of nosing around, Major Liepa accepts the crime as Latvia’s and departs for home, taking with him the gratitude and relief of the boys from Ystad. Shortly thereafter, however, the major is himself murdered, and Latvian homicide request Wallander’s help, putting him on the spot again. Dispatched to Riga, he arrives confused, overwhelmed, and far from sanguine about the good intentions of those who sent for him. Lied to, shot at, chased by “the dogs of Riga” (read: government-protected criminals), Wallander remains as indomitable as ever en route to one more dark victory.
When Mankell keeps his cases under 400 pages, his pacing benefits exponentially, producing this time a near-flawless performance in a distinguished series (Firewall, 2002, etc.).