The second book by Henning Mankell in the Wallander series is set in Sweden and in Riga, the capital of Latvia during the early 1990s when there was the beginning of transition of power from the Soviet occupation to the Latvians, but not total freedom. The plot begins with a raft, containing two dead bodies, washing up on a beach in Sweden. Investigations carried out by Inspection Kurt Wallander and his team suggest that the raft originally came from one of the Baltic countries to the north. A visit from Major Leipa of the Latvian police confirms the supposition but when Major Leipa returns to Latvia he is murdered. Inspector Wallander is then sent to Riga, supposedly to help with the investigation, but wherever he goes he is followed and his movements restricted. However he does manage to meet the widow of Major Leipa and agrees to try and help her not only to establish the truth about the death of her husband but also locate the report Leipa was writing about corruption in the police force.
Mankell uses the novel to write about the political situation in the Baltic states at this time, the fear that existed as citizens struggled for the independence of their country and the general mistrust through not knowing who was friend and who was foe. When Wallander return to Riga under cover he and the people he is trying to help are in constant danger until they discover who the enemy really is. In many ways it is a dark story as Wallander also has to examine what he wants in his own life.