This 1991 thriller is situated in Ystad, Sweden and Riga, Latvia just before the end of the SU. This 2nd of 10 police procedurals about chief inspector Kurt Wallander (KW) finds the hero in poor shape: only 43 and overweight, left by his wife, mourning for his dead mentor. Has little contact with his daughter who studies in Stockholm, plays cards with his quirky father once a week. Sleeps badly, is prone to stress, thinks he has heart trouble and about leaving the force (he applies for a security job in a factory).
Then one day, a rubber boat with 2 dead men lands on a beach near Ystad and a classical police procedural begins. This is the most satisfying part of the book. They turn out to be criminals from Latvia, executed and left to be discovered as a warning to others. The breakthrough and much additional background comes from a Latvian police major sent to Sweden to identify the bodies and help repatriate their remains. KW hopes he will take the murder case with him as well... But he likes the Latvian, whose English is even poorer than his own. One night, while killing a bottle of J&B, KW learns about the links between drug dealing mafia-type gangs, the political elite and the KGB. And what it means for Latvia, which yearns for independence.
Alas. Two events scupper KW's hope. First, the rubber boat disappears from the basement of the police station. No breakage, keys were used. Earlier, details of the murder investigation were leaked to the media: the Ystad police force has a mole... Next, he learns his Latvian police friend was beaten to death on the day he arrived home. Now the police in Riga requests KW's presence to help them investigate his murder. Its investigation disgusts KW because of its sloppiness. After lots of intrigue, KW and his dead friend's superiors part company, leaving KW with a feeling of failure and a yearning to help the widow of his dead friend. KW is in love with her...
In Sjöwall & Wahlöö's second book about Martin Beck, the hero was sent to Budapest. In this second book about KW, his creator sent him behind the Iron Curtain too. Coincidence? Both heroes come across as helpless. But KW returns to Latvia in a clandestine manner, aided by the Latvian diaspora. During his infiltration many good and bad people are killed.
The book has several issues: too much introspection, too long and slow moving, and too many loose ends. The killers of the two men in a rubber boat are not found. Neither are the mole or spy inside KW's police station. Etcetera. And did he get the factory job? Stupid question!