This is the second of Fossum's tales of the melancholy, enigmatic, yet personable Inspector Sejer, who solves a mysterious case that shatters a supposedly idyllic village's facade. It begins with a parent's nightmare: the disappearance of six-year-old Ragnhild Album who accepted a ride with Raymond Lake on her way home. Policeman Karlson is summoned by the frantic parents, and a search begins. The girl returns safely, but she reports a bizarre tale of hers and Raymond's discovery of a young woman near a local tarn [a small mountain lake] "quite still and with no clothes on."
After learning of the death, Ragnhild's mother calls back Inspector Sejer and his assistant Jacob Skarre to the village of Granittveien at the foot of majestic Kollen Mountain to locate the body and commence a thorough investigation. They discover that the body is fifteen-year-old Annie Holland, a resident of the village. Finding no signs of sexual assault or a struggle by the athletic Annie, Sejer concludes that she must have known whoever caused her death. So, he and his partner begin looking for her killer among relations and friends. As they question people, the two detectives are baffled about the murder because she was so well-liked and seemingly well-adjusted: a good student, a babysitter for neighbors, and a boyfriend. Curiously, however, Annie had become more introverted and unhappy recently.
Continuing their investigation, Sejer and Skarre peel layer upon layer of distrust and discover unpleasant truths. Annie's mother was married to a man capable of the murder of the girl in his extreme bitterness from being prevented from visiting his daughter. And, Annie probably would have gone with Axel Bjork, her father, if he had asked. His only alibi is that he was at home drinking. Another suspect, Halvor Muntz, the boyfriend, has things about himself that he hides. One thing is a mysterious past as his father died supposedly of suicide. But, there is suspicion of abuse by this father upon Halvor, giving him motivation to act against his father:
Close up it was possible to see the scar from the stitches; it extended from the right side of his mouth to his temple.
Even the mentally-challenged Raymond is a suspect because his jacket is on Annie, and there was time for which he can only account by saying he went in the store, then watched Ragnhild sleep. Also a suspect is Annie's handball coach, Knut Jensvoll, who tries to hide a previous conviction of rape. Moreover, when the Sejer learns that Annie abruptly quit for superficial reasons, he puts Jensvoll on the list of "interested persons." (Later, it is discovered that Annie had a fatal ovarian tumor). As other suspects emerge, Sejer and Skarre learn that Annie's murder is connected to a past tragic event.
This event is the death of Eskil Johnas, the difficult, hyperactive child of Henning Johnas, a carpet store owner. As the babysitter, Annie witnessed this death as Johnas stuffed waffles into the child's mouth, saying, "Right now you're going to eat your g****waffles." After driving her to the lake, Annie revealed she witnessed the death and said she wanted nothing more to do with him. He answered,"I've charged and condemned myself long ago, and you can't make things worse." (Halvor met her at the lake store and overheard.)
Bruises were on Annie's neck and foam at the corner of her mouth although the cause of death listed was drowning. Johnas maintains he did not kill Annie although Annie was seen entering his car.