Popping pills for anxiety, Kurt Wallander has been a basket case for months, since shooting a vicious killer in self defense. Too depressed to return to active duty, he unthinkingly brushes off a request by his friend Sten Torstensson to investigate the suspicious death of Sten's father, Gustaf. But when Sten himself dies — an apparent suicide — Wallander feels compelled to follow up the clues to learn what really happened.
Gustaf supposedly died while driving too fast on a seaside road. But why wasn't the key in the ignition at the accident scene? Sten perished by allegedly hanging himself. But why does he have an injury that looks like a karate chop to the throat — a wound also found on Gustaf?
Both men were legal counsels to international philanthropist Alfred Harderberg, who got an anonymous threatening postcard identical to one mailed to Sten before his death.
Wallander traces one of the postcards to the Eider Duck Hotel, a vacation spot where Wallander used to go as a boy with his father. The elderly proprietors remember Kurt well, and they also remember a quarrelsome middle-aged man and young woman who were guests around the time the card was sent.
The search for these menacing correspondents leads to a conspiracy of horrific dimensions, to more bloodshed, and to a case that Wallander cracks with the help of a disgraced former police officer who killed a person and is paying a punishing psychic penalty. Sound familiar?
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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers
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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers
Badly agitated, Gustaf Torstensson navigates his car along a seaside route until he happens on a strange hooded figure, blocking the way. It's the end of the road for Gustaf, and his body is later found behind the wheel at the bottom of a ravine, an apparent victim of reckless driving. However, his son, Sten, suspects foul play and tries to get his friend Inspector Wallander to look into it. But Wallander is preoccupied by the trauma of having killed a man and wants nothing to do with police matters.
By the time the dour cop decides that his friend deserves a good turn, Sten is also dead from what appears to be suicide. Although his colleagues on the force consider the two cases all but closed, Wallander returns from leave and begins assembling clues that show something strange is going on.
For example, both men have multiple fractures in their hyoid bone, which is a characteristic of assault. Also, Gustaf's car key was on the floor of his vehicle, not in the ignition. Furthermore, a broken chair was in his trunk, with the missing leg in the grass nearby. Then there's the anonymous postcard Sten recently received: "You will all die. And who will profit then? You are worthless."
Finally, there's Farnholm Castle, home of wealthy philanthropist Alfred Harderberg, for whom Gustaf and Sten were the long-time legal counsels. Seemingly generous and straightforward, Harderberg is a bit too good to be true. Coincidentally, the castle's gatekeeper is Anders Ekman, a former police colleague of Wallander's who was cashiered for killing an innocent bystander during a car chase — a bond, of sorts, with Wallander, whose lethal encounter was in self-defense.
Meanwhile, following up the threatening postcards (Harderberg also received one), Wallander identifies the sender as Jurgen Nordfeldt, a manager at a plastics factory that makes organ storage containers. Unable to find Nordfeldt, Wallander interviews his niece and hears horrifying hints of what Harderberg's foundation has been doing in Africa. Then the niece hastily leaves for her car, turns the ignition, and dies in an explosion. Next Nordfeldt himself calls, but when Wallander arrives at his secret location, an assassin has beat him to the scene, and Wallander has to do an emergency tracheotomy to save this key witness.
It turns out that Nordfeldt and his niece were trying to extort money from Harderberg for philanthropic projects, using their knowledge of the following scheme: based on the organ-recovery value of a healthy human — $120,000 — Harderberg has been using his foundation as a cover to sell body parts from Africa for transplant. Gustaf was complicit and was killed by Harderberg's bodyguard when he got cold feet. Sten discovered the truth after his father's death and was also silenced.
As gatekeeper, Ekman supplies the "smoking gun" when he discovers that Harderberg has been concealing the real sequence of departures from the castle on the day that Gustaf died. Desperate to get back in the police force, Ekman takes the law into his own hands when Harderberg tries to escape by helicopter. He saves the day, but takes a bullet and dies as Wallander assures him that he is indeed "back in."
Chastened by his colleague's sacrifice, Wallander decides that he, too, is back in.