Though this novel is relatively contemporary, admittedly it was written years earlier as a bonus for book purchasers. The heart of the mystery is embedded in the past: the murky years of World WW II, when the movements of soldiers and war refugees made tracking individuals more difficult, especially with the antiquated methods for keeping records that have since been replaced by current technology.
For fans of Sweden’s Inspector Kurt Wallander, this short tale is an unexpected treat, especially as Mankell notes in his separate section “Mankell on Wallander” that “there are no more stories about Kurt Wallander,” a comment that adds a note of nostalgia to the novel. Much of what makes Wallander such a relatable if curmudgeonly police detective is present in this slow-paced mystery. After years as a divorced man, currently living in an apartment with his daughter, new police officer Linda, and within walking distance of the Ystad Police department, Wallander has begun to imagine himself in a house, a place to finish out his years, perhaps with a dog as a companion. When a colleague mentions a house in Loderup that is for sale and in the right price range, Kurt decides to take a look.
Once on the premises, Kurt is already half-imagining himself as the new owner when, as an afterthought, he returns to the garden where he nearly stumbles over an obstacle. Meaning to inspect the cause of this stumble, an issue nagging at his subconscious, Wallander discovers on closer examination the bones of a human hand extending from the dirt. The potential site of Wallander’s future suddenly loses its appeal, now a crime scene. Eventually, after the forensics team examines the property, not only one body but another is unearthed—a female and a male. The problem is identification once the length of time since the deaths has been determined. With the rigorous attention to detail and refusal to give up no matter how hopeless a task characteristic of this detective, the mystery is eventually solved, though not without significant drama and a violent conclusion that nearly costs Wallander his life.
Though this taste of Detective Kurt Wallander at work one more time is welcome, albeit a bittersweet reminder that his story is over, Mankell’s essay “Mankell on Wallander” is equally refreshing and insightful as the author discusses the evolution of his protagonist gleaned from material in diaries he kept through the years, Wallander’s challenges as a police officer, the changing nature of crime, and an understanding of the complex society he inhabits. Drawing from his own experiences, Mankell has kept Wallander relevant, plagued with the usual human flaws of such popular characters, a reflection of the author’s own engagement with the world, suggesting how the passage of time informs the books we choose, the authors who tell the stories that become our favorites.