This is a rather unusual novel from Mankell, in that it is not a crime story. Rather it is about the personal re-awakening of Frederik Welin, who for the past 12 years has lived in seclusion on his own little island off the coast of Sweden. He has lived there in isolation as his preferred way to escape from facing up to his responsibilities. For Frederik hides a few dark secrets from his past. They are however about to re-emerge with a vengeance. The catalyst for this is the sudden, completely unexpected appearance on his island of Harriet, the woman he deserted 40 years ago. Harriet is now near death and has decided to track Frederik down to try and make peace with him. Thus Frederik has to finally confront his past and most important to face up to who he is himself. Faced with Harriet he can no longer just run away, much though he would like to. Harriet also has a major surprise in store for him, one that does shake him to the core.
The setting for the novel is the little isolated island he lives on and parts of northern Sweden. Most of the story takes place over two winters. And very bitter winters they are too. This landscape and the atmosphere mirror the bleak, cold and at times bitter heart of Frederik. Slowly Frederik himself thaws and changes and the novel is ultimately a tale of hope and redemption.