Escaped from its barn, a ghostly white stallion heralds a gruesome crime. An elderly farmer and his wife are the victims: the man slain, the woman only alive enough to mutter "fff..." before expiring. Wallander thinks she might have been trying to say "foreigner." But, then, he has immigrants on his mind, having just met his daughter's new boyfriend of Syrian descent.
Also preoccupying the Swedish sleuth is his father's growing dementia, not to mention his own ill health due to diabetes, poor diet, and overwork.
The situation worsens when a police insider tips off the press that Wallander heard the dying woman say that her assailants were foreign. This sparks a wave of revenge attacks by Swedish nationalists against migrant workers, with a deadly outcome. Even worse, the informant seems to be feeding tips to the nationalists to help them escape capture.
With two deadly crimes on his hands, Wallander has several suggestive clues: the woman was strangled with a rope tied with an unusual knot; her husband was secretly wealthy, with a former mistress and an illegitimate son; unknown to the woman, her husband had hidden cash in the barn from which the stallion later bolted; and the migrant's killers used an old Mercedes for their getaway, identified by a witness who didn't see it but recognized its distinctive sound.
The trail leads Wallander to an encounter of unprecedented violence for him — an incident that leaves this hardened cop badly shaken, filled with self doubt, and resolved to give up his career; but not before he finds the faceless killers.
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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers
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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers
An elderly couple, Johannes and Maria Lovgren, are brutally attacked on their farm. When Inspector Wallander arrives, Johannes lies dead in a pool of blood, and Maria is barely alive — strangled by a rope with an unusual knot. Asked who did it, she mumbles "fff..." before expiring in Wallander's arms.
The Swedish sleuth thinks she might have been trying to say "foreigner." But he also knows that his mind could be playing tricks on him, since he has just had an argument with his daughter, Linda, over the suitability of her boyfriend, Jamal, a physician of Syrian heritage.
Nonetheless, back at the police station, Wallander mentions that Maria's last word might have been "foreigner." His colleagues jump on the shaky clue. Someone then leaks the news to the press and Sweden's right-wing xenophobic element erupts. Soon a migrant camp is bombed and later a migrant worker is shot to death in an ambush.
Trying to contain the hate crimes, Wallander tails a suspect whose car was involved in the migrant murder. The man turns out to be a new recruit to a neo-Nazi group, meeting with a hardened — and armed — ringleader. In a confrontation, Wallander shoots the leader dead in self defense. When police officer Peters arrives on the scene, he breaks down, confessing that he leaked the "foreigner" allegation and also gave the neo-Nazis inside information on the case.
Chief of Police Lisa Holgersson suspends Wallander pending a report on his use of deadly force. Even so, he can't shake his commitment to the Lovgren double-murder investigation, feeling that he is on the verge of a breakthrough, despite Holgersson's view that "the whole thing's a complete mess."
Wallander's only progress so far has been to establish that Johannes had a secret fortune in black-market earnings, which he regularly tapped from his bank account. His killers somehow knew that he had recently made a withdrawal and had hid the cash somewhere on the farm. They tortured his wife to get him to reveal the location. Wallander's further discovery that Johannes had a mistress and an illegitimate son has led to a dead end.
In another development, Wallander's father, Povel, is increasingly losing his mind to Alzheimer's disease, adding to the crime fighter's hopelessness.
Depressed about taking a man's life for the first time, the gloomy cop has an epiphany while standing in line at the bank, when he glimpses the details of the customer's transaction in front of him. On a hunch, he reviews closed-circuit TV footage that shows Johannes's last withdrawal. Two men behind him betray great interest in his business — something that wasn't visible in an earlier review of bank footage from a different camera. Notably, the two men appear to be foreign.
At this point, the unusual rope knot used on Maria becomes a crucial clue: it's precisely the type of knot carnival workers use to secure equipment. Indeed, a traveling carnival manned by foreign workers is in town! Despite his suspension, Wallander races to the fair looking for the two men shown in the surveillance film. After a chase on a carnival ride and a confrontation down the barrel of a gun, Wallander nabs the killers. Then, traumatized by the violence he has experienced, he hands in his badge.