A colleague offers Kurt Wallander, who is nearing retirement, a house in the countryside. When Wallander goes to take a look at it, he discovers a skeleton in the garden. In order to solve the murder, he has to delve into the house’s and its inhabitants’ past.
If there is one word to describe this book, it is sparse. Not only the victim has been stripped to the bare bones, but everything else, too: the dialogue, the characterisation, and the cast, while the overall mood is just bleak. One can feel the dreariness of the season, the solitude of the characters, the barrenness of the landscape, and the reality of a past full of hardships for many people. There is also a sense of inevitability hanging over the proceedings; just like winter is unavoidably approaching, Wallander has to face the reality of his near retirement and is thus forced to think about the final part of his life.
All of this is too on the nose, but Mankell makes up for it to some extent by making the story end on a more hopeful note. Besides that, Wallander is at least likeable in all his grumpiness and sadness because his faults are so obvious, and not only to the reader, but also to himself. He has no illusions about his shortcomings, but is mostly unable to do anything about them, and when he just can’t get out of his own way it does make him very relatable.
Overall, however, this is not a particularly engaging book, in part because of all the aforementioned bleakness, but also because the story is barely developed. I did not really become interested in the victim or the suspects, and the mystery as a whole was disappointing and rather boring due to the poor pacing. At first, absolutely nothing seemed to happen, only for the story to come to a very hurried end. It is a short book, and as such works as a diversion for an afternoon if there is nothing else at hand, but I can’t really recommend it otherwise.