On the floor of a church in northern Sweden, the body of a man lies mutilated and defiled–and in the night sky, the aurora borealis dances as the snow begins to fall....So begins Åsa Larsson’s spellbinding thriller, winner of Sweden’s Best First Crime Novel Award and an international literary sensation.
Rebecka Martinsson is heading home to Kiruna, the town she’d left in disgrace years before. A Stockholm attorney, Rebecka has a good reason to return: her friend Sanna, whose brother has been horrifically murdered in the revivalist church his charisma helped create. Beautiful and fragile, Sanna needs someone like Rebecka to remove the shadow of guilt that is engulfing her, to forestall an ambitious prosecutor and a dogged policewoman. But to help her friend, and to find the real killer of a man she once adored and is now not sure she ever knew, Rebecka must relive the darkness she left behind in Kiruna, delve into a sordid conspiracy of deceit, and confront a killer whose motives are dark, wrenching, and impossible to guess....
From the Hardcover edition.
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Åsa Larsson was born in Kiruna, Sweden, in 1966. She studied in Uppsala and lived for some years in Stockholm but now prefers the rural life with her husband, two children, and several chickens. A former tax lawyer, she now writes full-time and is the author of Sun Storm, winner of Sweden’s Best First Crime Novel Award, and The Black Path, which Delacorte will publish in 2007.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
And evening came and morning came, the first day
When Viktor Strandgård dies it is not, in fact, for the first time. He lies on his back in the church called The Source of All Our Strength and looks up through the enormous windows in its roof. It’s as if there is nothing between him and the dark winter sky up above.
You can’t get any closer than this, he thinks. When you come to the church on the mountain at the end of the world, the sky will be so close that you can reach out and touch it.
The Aurora Borealis twists and turns like a dragon in the night sky. Stars and planets are compelled to give way to her, this great miracle of shimmering light, as she makes her unhurried way across the vault of heaven.
Viktor Strandgård follows her progress with his eyes.
I wonder if she sings? he thinks. Like a lonely whale beneath the sea?
And as if his thoughts have touched her, she stops for a second. Breaks her endless journey. Contemplates Viktor Strandgård with her cold winter eyes. Because he is as beautiful as an icon lying there, to tell the truth, with the dark blood like a halo round his long, fair, St. Lucia hair. He can’t feel his legs anymore. He is getting drowsy. There is no pain.
Curiously enough it is his previous death he is thinking of as he lies there looking into the eye of the dragon. That time in the late winter when he came cycling down the long bank toward the crossroads at Adolf Hedinsvägen and Hjalmar Lundbohmsvägen. Happy and redeemed, his guitar on his back. He remembers how the wheels of his bicycle skidded helplessly on the ice as he tried desperately to brake. How he saw the woman in the red Fiat Uno coming from the right. How they stared at each other, the realization in the other’s eyes; now it’s happening, the icy slide toward death.
With that picture in his mind’s eye Viktor Strandgård dies for the second time in his life. Footsteps approach, but he doesn’t hear them. His eyes do not have to see the gleam of the knife once again. His body lies like an empty shell on the floor of the church; it is stabbed over and over again. And the dragon resumes her journey across the heavens, unmoved.
Monday, February 17
Rebecka Martinsson was woken by her own sharp intake of breath as fear stabbed through her body. She opened her eyes to darkness. Just between the dream and the waking, she had the strong feeling that there was someone in the flat. She lay still and listened, but all she could hear was the sound of her own heart thumping in her chest like a frightened hare. Her fingers fumbled for the alarm clock on the bedside table and found the little button to light up the face. Quarter to four. She had gone to bed four hours ago and this was the second time she had woken up.
It’s the job, she thought. I work too hard. That’s why my thoughts go round and round at night, like a hamster on a squeaking wheel.
Her head and the back of her neck were aching. She must have been grinding her teeth in her sleep. Might as well get up. She wound the duvet around her and went into the kitchen. Her feet knew the way without her needing to switch on the light. She put on the coffee machine and the radio. Bellman’s music played over and over as the water ran through the filter and Rebecka showered.
Her long hair could dry in its own time. She drank her coffee while she was getting dressed. Over the weekend she had ironed her clothes for the week and hung them up in the wardrobe. Now it was Monday. On Monday’s hanger was an ivory blouse and a navy blue Marella suit. She sniffed at the tights she’d been wearing the previous day; they’d do. They’d gone a bit wrinkly around the ankles, but if she stretched them and tucked them under her feet it wouldn’t show. She’d just have to make sure she didn’t kick her shoes off during the day. It didn’t bother her; it was only worth spending time worrying about your underwear and your tights if you thought somebody was going to be watching you get undressed. Her underwear had seen better days and was turning gray.
An hour later she was sitting at her computer in the office. The words flowed through her mind like a clear mountain stream, down her arms and out through her fingers, flying over the keyboard. Work soothed her mind. It was as if the morning’s unpleasantness had been blown away.
It’s strange, she thought. I moan and complain like all the other young lawyers about how unhappy the job makes me. But I feel a sense of peace when I’m working. Happiness, almost. It’s when I’m not working I feel uneasy.
The light from the street below forced its way with difficulty through the tall barred windows. You could still make out the sound of individual cars among the noise below, but soon the street would become a single dull roar of traffic. Rebecka leaned back in her chair and clicked on “print.” Out in the dark corridor the printer woke up and got on with the first task of the day. Then the door into reception banged. She sighed and looked at the clock. Ten to six. That was the end of her peace and quiet.
She couldn’t hear who had come in. The thick carpets in the corridor deadened the sound of footsteps, but after a while the door of her room opened.
“Am I disturbing you?” It was Maria Taube. She pushed the door open with her hip, balancing a mug of coffee in each hand. Rebecka’s copy was jammed under her right arm.
Both women were newly qualified lawyers with special responsibility for tax laws, working for Meijer & Ditzinger. The office was at the very top of a beautiful turn-of-the-century building on Birger Jarlsgatan. Semi-antique Persian carpets ran the length of the corridors, and here and there stood imposing sofas and armchairs in attractively worn leather. Everything exuded an air of experience, influence, money and competence. It was an office that filled clients with an appropriate mixture of security and reverence.
“By the time you die you must be so tired you hope there won’t be any sort of afterlife,” said Maria, and put a mug of coffee on Rebecka’s desk. “But of course that won’t apply to you, Maggie Thatcher. What time did you get here this morning? Or haven’t you been home at all?”
They’d both worked in the office on Sunday evening. Maria had gone home first.
“I’ve only just got here,” lied Rebecka, and took her copy out of Maria’s hand.
Maria sank down into the armchair provided for visitors, kicked off her ridiculously expensive leather shoes and drew her legs up under her body.
“Terrible weather,” she said.
Rebecka looked out the window with surprise. Icy rain was hammering against the glass. She hadn’t noticed earlier. She couldn’t remember if it had been raining when she came into work. In fact, she couldn’t actually remember whether she’d walked or taken the Underground. She gazed in a trance at the rain pouring down the glass as it beat an icy tattoo.
Winter in Stockholm, she thought. It’s hardly surprising that you shut down your brain when you’re outside. It’s different up at home, the blue shining midwinter twilight, the snow crunching under your feet. Or the early spring, when you’ve skied along the river from Grandmother’s house in Kurravaara to the cabin in Jiekajärvi, and you sit down and rest on the first patch of clear ground where the snow has melted under a pine tree. The tree bark glows like red copper in the sun. The snow sighs with exhaustion, collapsing in the warmth. Coffee, an orange, sandwiches in your rucksack.
The sound of Maria’s voice drew her back. Her thoughts scrabbled and tried to escape, but she pulled herself together and met her colleague’s raised eyebrows.
“Hello! I asked if you were going to listen to the news.”
“Yes, of course.”
Rebecka leaned back in her chair and stretched out her arm to the radio on the windowsill.
Lord, she’s thin, thought Maria, looking at her colleague’s rib cage as it protruded from under her jacket. You could play a tune on those ribs.
Rebecka turned the radio up and both women sat with their coffee cups cradled between their hands, heads bowed as if in prayer.
Maria blinked. It felt as if something were scratching her tired eyes. Today she had to finish the appeal for the county court in the Stenman case. Måns would kill her if she asked him for more time. She felt a burning pain in her midriff. No more coffee before lunch. You sat here like a princess in a tower, day and night, evenings and weekends, in this oh-so-charming office with all its bloody traditions which could go to hell, and all the pissed-up partners looking straight through your blouse while outside, life just carried on without you. You didn’t know whether you wanted to cry or start a revolution but all you could actually manage was to drag yourself home to the TV and pass out in front of its soothing, flickering screen.
It’s six o’clock and here are the morning headlines. A well-known religious leader around the age of thirty was found murdered early this morning in the church of The Source of All Our Strength in Kiruna. The police in Kiruna are not prepared to make a statement about the murder at this stage, but during the morning they have revealed that no one has been detained so far, and the murder weapon has not yet been found. . . . A new study shows that more and more communities are ignoring their obligations, according to Social Services. . . .
Rebecka swung her chair round so quickly that she banged her hand on the windowsill. She turned the radio off with a crash and at the same time managed to spill coffee on her knee.
“Viktor,” she exclaimed. “It has to be him.”
Maria looked at her with surprise.
“Viktor Strandgård? The Paradise Boy? Did you know him?”
Rebecka avoided Maria’s gaze. Ended up staring at the coffee stain on her skirt, her expression closed and blank. Thin lips, pressed together.
“Of course I knew of him. But I haven’t been home to Kiruna for years. I don’t know anybody up there anymore.”
Maria got up from the armchair, went over to Rebecka and pried the coffee cup from her colleague’s stiff hands.
“If you say you didn’t know him, that’s fine by me, but you’re going to faint in about thirty seconds. You’re as white as a sheet. Bend over and put your head between your knees.”
Like a child Rebecka did as she was told. Maria went to the bathroom and fetched paper towels to try to save Rebecka’s suit from the coffee stain. When she came back Rebecka was leaning back in her chair.
“Are you okay?” asked Maria.
“Yes,” answered Rebecka absently, and looked on helplessly as Maria started to dab at her skirt with a damp towel. “I did know him,” she said.
“Well, I didn’t exactly need a lie detector,” said Maria without looking up. “Are you upset?”
“Upset? I don’t know. Frightened, maybe.”
Maria stopped her frantic dabbing.
“Frightened of what?”
“I don’t know. That somebody will—”
The telephone burst in with its shrill signal before Rebecka could finish. She jumped and stared at it, but didn’t pick it up. After the third ring Maria answered. She put her hand over the receiver so that the person on the other end couldn’t hear her, and whispered:
“It’s for you and it must be from Kiruna, because there’s a Moomin troll on the other end.”
When Inspector Anna-Maria Mella’s telephone rang, she was already awake. The winter moon filled the room with its chilly white light. The birch trees outside the window drew blue shadow pictures on the walls with their bent and aching limbs. As soon as the phone started to ring, she picked it up.
“It’s Sven-Erik—were you awake?”
“Yes, but I’m in bed. What is it?”
She heard Robert sigh and glanced in his direction. Had he woken up? No, his breathing became deep and regular again. Good.
“Suspected murder in The Source of All Our Strength church,” said Sven-Erik.
“So? I’m on desk duty since Friday, in case you’ve forgotten.”
“I know” Sven-Erik’s voice sounded troubled—“but bloody hell, Anna-Maria, this is something else. You could just come and have a look. The forensic team will be finished soon, and we can go in. I’ve got Viktor Strandgård lying here, and it looks like a slaughterhouse. I’d guess we’ve got about an hour before every bloody TV station is here with cameras and the whole circus.”
“I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”
There’s a turn-up, she thought. Sven-Erik ringing to ask me for help. He’s changed.
Sven-Erik didn’t answer, but Anna-Maria heard his suppressed sigh of relief just before he put the phone down.
She turned to Robert and gazed at his sleeping face. His cheek was resting on the back of his hand and his red lips were parted slightly. She found it irresistibly sexy that a few strands of gray had started to appear in his straggling moustache and at his temples. Robert himself used to stand in front of the bathroom mirror looking anxiously at his receding hairline.
“The desert is spreading,” he would say ruefully.
She kissed him on the mouth. Her stomach got in the way, but she managed it. Twice.
“I love you,” he assured her, still asleep. His hand fumbled under the sheet to draw her close, but by then she had already managed to sit upright on the edge of the bed. All of a sudden she was desperate for a pee. Her bladder was bursting all the time. She’d already been to the bathroom twice during the night.
Quarter of an hour later Anna-Maria climbed out of her Ford Escort in the car park below The Source of All Our Strength church. It was still bitterly cold. The air pinched and nipped at her cheeks. If she breathed through her mouth her throat and lungs hurt. If she breathed through her nose the fine hairs in her nostrils froze when she inhaled. She wound her scarf around to cover her mouth and looked at her watch. Half an hour max; any longer and the car wouldn’t start. It was a big parking lot with spaces for at least four hundred cars. Her light-red Escort looked small and insignificant beside Sven-Erik Stålnacke’s Volvo 740. A radio car was parked next to Sven-Erik’s Volvo. Apart from that there were only a dozen or so cars, completely covered in snow. The forensic team must have gone already. She started to walk up the narrow path to the church on Sandstensberget. The frost lay like icing on the birch trees, and right at the top of the hill the mighty Crystal Church soared up into the night sky, surrounded by stars and planets. It stood there like a gigantic illuminated ice cube, shimmering with the Aurora Borealis.
All bloody show, she thought as she struggled up the bank. This lot are rolling in money; they ought to be giving some of their cash to Save the Children instead. But I suppose it’s more fun to sing gospel songs in a huge church than to dig wells in Africa.
In the distance she could see her colleagues Sven-Erik Stålnacke, Sergeant Tommy Rantakyrö and Inspector Fred Olsson outside the church door. Sven-Erik, bareheaded as usual, was standing quite still, leaning slightly backwards with his hands deep in the warm pockets of his fleece. The two younger men were bounding about like excited puppies. Sh...
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Book Description Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc, United States, 2006. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. 214 x 149 mm. Language: English Brand New Book. On the floor of a church in northern Sweden, the body of a man lies mutilated and defiled-and in the night sky, the aurora borealis dances as the snow begins to fall.So begins Asa Larsson s spellbinding thriller, winner of Sweden s Best First Crime Novel Award and an international literary sensation. Rebecka Martinsson is heading home to Kiruna, the town she d left in disgrace years before. A Stockholm attorney, Rebecka has a good reason to return: her friend Sanna, whose brother has been horrifically murdered in the revivalist church his charisma helped create. Beautiful and fragile, Sanna needs someone like Rebecka to remove the shadow of guilt that is engulfing her, to forestall an ambitious prosecutor and a dogged policewoman. But to help her friend, and to find the real killer of a man she once adored and is now not sure she ever knew, Rebecka must relive the darkness she left behind in Kiruna, delve into a sordid conspiracy of deceit, and confront a killer whose motives are dark, wrenching, and impossible to guess. From the Hardcover edition. Bookseller Inventory # ABZ9780385340786
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Book Description Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc, United States, 2006. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. 229 x 155 mm. Language: English Brand New Book. On the floor of a church in northern Sweden, the body of a man lies mutilated and defiled-and in the night sky, the aurora borealis dances as the snow begins to fall.So begins Asa Larsson s spellbinding thriller, winner of Sweden s Best First Crime Novel Award and an international literary sensation. Rebecka Martinsson is heading home to Kiruna, the town she d left in disgrace years before. A Stockholm attorney, Rebecka has a good reason to return: her friend Sanna, whose brother has been horrifically murdered in the revivalist church his charisma helped create. Beautiful and fragile, Sanna needs someone like Rebecka to remove the shadow of guilt that is engulfing her, to forestall an ambitious prosecutor and a dogged policewoman. But to help her friend, and to find the real killer of a man she once adored and is now not sure she ever knew, Rebecka must relive the darkness she left behind in Kiruna, delve into a sordid conspiracy of deceit, and confront a killer whose motives are dark, wrenching, and impossible to guess. From the Hardcover edition. Bookseller Inventory # ABZ9780385340786
Book Description Delta, 2006. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # 0385340788
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