I chose this because it seemed to be among the most highly rated of the author's books. I am not sure whether these stories were written throughout Mankell's career and are being collected here, or whether they were written specifically for this volume - my guess, given how the style improves and the sophistication increases, is the former. The book presents 5 stories of varying lengths, closing with the novella-sized title piece. It shows Detective Kurt Wallender at various stages of his life and sketches the development (and collapse) of his marriage to Mona, although this is never the focus of the narrative. This appears to be part of Mankell's technique - he shows us the ordinary, and often difficult, relationship issues in his detective's life, and goes back and forth between them and the extra-ordinary criminal cases he is confronted with.
The first story is not one of his best, and it seems to show both Mankell and Wallender early in their development, as the 20-something sleuth, a recent addition to the police force, begins going his own way by pursuing an unauthorized investigation into the mysterious murder of an uncommunicative neighbor. The second story is more of a vignette than a detective story, and brings in the issue of immigration to Sweden. "The Man on the Beach" takes a look at the unexpected disappearance of an ordinary man as he goes to pay a mysterious visit to someone. This seems to be a recurring circumstance in Mankell's fiction - a seemingly normal, colorless individual is shown to be unexpectedly involved in something criminal or in some way twisted. This occurs in "The Death 'of a Photographer", a more involved piece in which a comfortable, married town photographer is found murdered one evening while engaging in his favorite hobby - making weirdly distorted prints of famous people and others. Like the previous story, this also has a "pull the string" structure - as Wallander begins to investigate the victim's life he begins to discover unusual things which lead to an eventual solution.
The title piece is the most complicated and interesting. An unmarked, unreported small plane crashes in the Swedish countryside. Shortly afterwards, a couple of spinster sisters are found murdered in their sewing shop. While Wallander begins looking into these two seemingly unrelated cases, he must struggle with his increasingly erratic and impulsive artist father. The old man spontaneously goes to visit Egypt and ends up in custody there after trying to climb up one of the pyramids.
Mankell appears to be very popular. I would not call myself a fan, but I do enjoy his stories and respect his work. The writing can be plodding at times, and it is hard to get a good grip on Kurt Wallander's character (which is often the case with fictional detectives). He is practical, undemonstrative, persistent, low key, and relies on his gut feelings. In his personal life he usually seems to be reacting to someone with more emotions and more personality than he has (i.e. his father, his wife, his daughter). This was a good collection of tales, and I am sure his many fans will like it. I listened to an audio version of the book, which was read by an actor who indulged in some odd voice modulations, thus making things stranger than another presenter would have made them, and who sounded a bit like Willem Dafoe.