Ystad is not a mean-streets sort of town, so that when three murders materialize in a space of time unsettlingly short, the first thing Swedish police inspector Kurt Wallander must figure out is whether the cases are connected. It doesn't take him long to decide that they are—moreover, that there's nothing really subtle about the link. “Brutality unites them,” he tells his veteran corps of homicide specialists, gathered for the fourth of their adventures to be published here (The White Lioness, 1999, etc.). A barehanded strangling, a cruelly orchestrated drowning, a bizarre entrapment featuring lethally sharpened bamboo sticks—each of the deaths carefully planned to arrive slowly, excruciatingly. With an m.o. of sorts established, Wallander launches his manhunt, and then to his surprise—and considerable dismay—realizes that it is in fact a womanhunt. In Sweden? A female serial killer? Difficult for him to come to terms with, and yet as bits and pieces of evidence accrue—intangible, yet compelling—that conclusion becomes hard to evade. A car driven in a certain way, a suitcase packed with particular efficiency, a whiff of perfume in an unexpected place . . . she's out there, all right: smart, strong, possibly mad, and full of hate. And that's the crux of the matter, Wallander feels—certain that if he can discover why, he'll discover who.
Much too long, and paced like a Swedish winter, but Wallander—solidly in the tradition of tough, brilliant, but oh so vulnerable coppers—almost saves the day.