Jansson’s compelling thriller is fueled by an ancient myth on the Swedish island of Gotland, that of the White Sea- Lady: a young woman who drowned on her wedding day and returns to lure men to a watery grave, a bride craving a groom. One character on the island, physician Anders Ahlstrom, lives a strangely parallel existence, His wife drowned on their wedding eve, and the couple’s one-year-old daughter, Julia, never knew her mother. Anders has only recently been attracted to a woman with whom he can imagine a future: police detective Erika Lund. He wants only for Julia, who is nine and a difficult child, to accept the woman in his life.
Walking home late one night, another police detective named Maria Wren stumbles across three men savagely beating a boy in an alley. Intervening to help the young man, Wren is attacked as well by the assailants. She awakens in the hospital only to learn that the boy has died of his wounds. Because she is one of the victims, Maria is not able to assist in solving the case, leaving her nervous about its quick resolution because she still remembers the menace of the attackers’ hooded leader. The case is assigned to Per Arvidsson as he returns from an injury sustained on the job that has left him somewhat depressed.
As other characters are introduced to the story—nurse Linn Bogrun and her neighbor Harry Molin, an elderly hypochondriac—the hooded man who engineered the boy’s death and Wren’s beating appears frequently on the scene, once threatening Linn as she approaches her apartment. Then Linn is brutally murdered in her sleep and her body—with its decapitated head—dressed as a bride and arranged in a public place. The unfortunate Harry is found hanging from a hook in the apartment of Per Arvidsson, the detective assigned to the first case, who lives in the same neighborhood as the victims.
All the pertinent characters seem somehow to be linked together in a grisly tableau imagined in the mind of a killer who haunts the neighborhood and harbors nefarious plans for those intimate movements he tracks on his computer. Linn is nearly attacked by the same gang that killed the boy and beat Detective Wren; Harry, Linn’s neighbor, is also a patient of the physician, Anders Ahlstrom; and Maria Wren, who anxiously awaits the results of a blood test after her assault, has only recently broken off a relationship with Detective Per Arvidsson. Erika Lund, the new love who has so enchanted Anders, is also a part of the investigation that has now grown to include three murders.
In a dark ballet of murder and innocence directed by the twisted psyche of a deranged killer, the characters move in harmony until what has begun as a puzzle slowly takes shape. Each hideous killing adds to the image, one that is completed in a tragic finale where clarity comes at the price of happiness. The detectives and survivors are left stunned in the wake of the murderer’s vicious attack. Jansson keeps the reader on tenterhooks until the final shocking scene, where an ancient myth of Gotland claims yet another victim.