Inside an almost isolated Skåne farmhouse in Lunnarp, an old man, Johannes Lövgren, is tortured to death and his wife Maria savagely beaten and left for dead with a noose around her neck. Inspector Kurt Wallander, a forty-two-year-old Ystad police detective, is put on the case with his team: Rydberg, an aging detective with rheumatism; Martinsson, a 29-year-old rookie; Naslund, a thirty-year veteran; Svedberg, a balding, forty-something-year-old detective; Hansson and Peters. Maria Lovgren is taken to hospital, but dies anyway. Her last word: "foreign".
Rydberg has been examining the noose around Mrs Lovgren's neck and "has never seen one like it before". He thinks that Mrs Lovgren's last word is accurate, and that the murderers are foreign. But his conclusion leads to several racially-motivated attacks after the information is leaked to the press.