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It’s midsummer in Sweden—when the light lingers through dawn and a long, isolating winter finally comes to an end. In this magical time, a brutal killer has chosen to strike. A female priest—who made enemies and acolytes in equal number—has been found hanging in her church. And a big-city lawyer quite acquainted with death enters the scene as police and parishioners try to pick up the pieces....
Not long ago, attorney Rebecka Martinsson had to kill three men in order to stop an eerily similar murder spree—one that also involved a priest. Now she is back in Kiruna, the region of her birth, while a determined policewoman gnaws on the case and people who loved or loathed the victim mourn or revel in her demise. The further Rebecka is drawn into the mystery—a mystery that will soon take another victim—the more the dead woman’s world clutches her: a world of hurt and healing, sin and sexuality, and, above all, of sacrifice.
In prose that is both lyrical and visceral, Åsa Larsson has crafted a novel of pure entertainment, a taut, atmospheric mystery that will hold you in thrall until the last, unforgettable page is turned
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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.:
Friday June 21
I am lying on my side on the kitchen sofa. Impossible to sleep. At this time of year, in the middle of summer, the nights are so light they allow you no rest. The clock on the wall above me will soon strike one. The ticking of the pendulum grows louder in the silence. Smashes every sentence to pieces. Every attempt at rational thought. On the table lies the letter from that woman.
Lie still, I say to myself. Lie still and sleep.
My thoughts turn to Traja, a pointer bitch we had when I was little. She could never settle, walked round and round the kitchen like a restless soul, her claws clicking on the lacquered wooden floor. For the first few months we kept her in a cage indoors to force her to relax. The house was constantly filled with the sound of "sit" and "stay" and "lie down."
Now it's just the same. There's a dog in my breast who wants to jump up every time the clock ticks. Every time I take a breath. But it isn't Traja who's inside me ready to pounce. Traja just wanted to trot around. Get rid of the restlessness in her body. This dog turns her head away from me when I try to look at her. She is filled with evil intent.
I shall try to go to sleep. Somebody should lock me in. I ought to have a cage in the kitchen.
I get up and look out of the window. It's quarter past one. It's as light as day. The long shadows from the ancient pine trees along the edge of the yard extend toward the house. I think they look like arms. Hands stretching up out of their restless graves and reaching for me. The letter is lying there on the kitchen table.
I'm in the cellar. It's twenty-five to two. The dog who isn't Traja is on her feet. She's running around the edges of my mind. I try to call to her. Don't want to follow her into this untrodden territory. My head is empty on the inside. My hand takes things off the wall. Different objects. What do I want with them? The sledgehammer. The crowbar. The chain. The hammer.
My hands place everything in the trunk of the car. It's like a puzzle. I can't see what it's meant to represent. I get into the car and wait. I think about the woman and the letter. It's her fault. She's the one who's driven me out of my mind.
I'm driving the car. There's a clock on the instrument panel. Straight lines with no meaning. The road is carrying me out of time. My hands are clutching the wheel so tightly that my fingers are hurting. If I kill myself now they'll have to cut the steering wheel out of the car and bury it with me. But I'm not going to kill myself.
I stop the car a hundred meters from the shore where she keeps her boat. I walk down to the river. It's shining and quiet, waiting. There's the faint sound of lapping water beneath the boat. The sun is dancing on the ripples caused by a salmon trout coming to the surface to eat flies. The mosquitoes are swarming around me. Whirring around my ears. Landing round my eyes and on the back of my neck and sucking blood. I don't take any notice of them. A sound makes me turn around. It's her. She is standing no more than ten meters from me.
Her mouth opens and forms itself around words. But I hear nothing. My ears are sealed up. Her eyes narrow. Irritation springs to life in them. I take two tentative steps forward. I still don't know what I want. I am in the territory beyond all sense and reason.
She catches sight of the crowbar in my hand. Her mouth stops moving. The narrow eyes widen once again. A second of surprise. Then fear.
I catch sight of the crowbar myself. My hand whitens around the steel. And suddenly the dog is back. Enormous. Paws like hooves. The hair is standing up from the back of its neck all the way down to its tail. Teeth bared. It's going to swallow me whole. And then it's going to swallow the woman.
I've reached her. She looks at the crowbar as if she were bewitched by it and so the first blow strikes her right on the temple. I kneel down beside her and lay my cheek against her mouth. A warm puff of air against my skin. I haven't finished with her yet. The dog rushes out like a mad thing, straight for everything in its way. Its claws rip the earth, leaving great wounds. I am rampaging. I am racing into the far country that is madness.
And now I am lengthening my stride.
Pia Svonni the churchwarden is standing in her garden smoking. She usually holds the cigarette the way girls are supposed to, between her index and middle fingers. But now she's holding it firmly between her thumb and her index and middle fingers. There's a hell of a difference. It's nearly midsummer, that's why. You get kind of crazy. Don't want to sleep. Don't need to either. The night whispers and entices and draws you in, so you just have to go outside.
The wood nymphs are putting on their new shoes, made of the finest birch bark. It's a real beauty competition. They forget themselves and dance and sway in the meadows, even though a car might pass by. They wear out their shoes while the little ones stand hidden among the trees, watching with huge eyes.
Pia Svonni stubs out the cigarette on the base of the upturned flowerpot that serves as an ashtray and drops the stub through the hole. She suddenly decides to cycle down to Jukkasjärvi church. Tomorrow there's a wedding there. She has already done the cleaning and made everything look nice, but now she has the idea of picking a big bunch of flowers for the altar. She'll go out into the meadow beyond the churchyard. Buttercups grow there, and globe flowers and purple cranesbill in a haze of cow parsley. And forget-me-nots whisper along the edge. She pushes her cell phone into her pocket and pulls on her tennis shoes.
The midnight sun casts its glow over the yard. The thin light falls through the fence and the long shadows from the slats make the lawn look like a homemade rag rug, woven in stripes of greenish yellow and dark green. A flock of thrushes is screeching and playing havoc in one of the birch trees.
The whole way down to Jukkasjärvi is one long downhill run. Pia pedals and changes gear. Her speed is lethal. And no helmet. Her hair streams out behind her. It's like when she was four years old and used to swing standing up on the old swing made out of a tire in the yard, until it felt as if it were going to swing right round. She cycles through Kauppinen where some horses gaze at her from under the trees. When she passes the bridge over the river Torne she can see two little boys fly-fishing a little way downstream.
The road runs parallel with the river. The village is sleeping. She passes the tourist area and the restaurant, the old Konsum supermarket and the ugly community center. The old folk museum's silvery timber walls and the white veils of mist on the meadow in front of the fence.
At the far end of the village, where the road runs out, is the wooden church, painted Falun red. A smell of fresh tar comes from the roof timbers.
The bell tower is part of the fence. To get into the church, you go in through the bell tower and walk along a stone path that leads to the church steps.
One of the blue doors to the bell tower is standing wide open. Pia clambers off her bicycle and leans it against the fence.
It should be closed, she thinks, walking slowly toward the door.
Something rustles among the small birch trees to the right of the path down to the rectory. Her heart races and she stops to listen. It was only a little rustle. Probably a squirrel or a shrew.
The back door of the bell tower is open as well. She can see straight through the tower. The door of the church is also open.
Now her heart is really thumping. Sune might forget the door of the bell tower if he's been celebrating—after all, it's the night before midsummer's eve. But not the door of the church. She thinks about those kids who smashed the windows of the church in town, and threw burning rags inside. That was a couple of years ago. What's happened now? Pictures flash across her mind. The altarpiece sprayed with graffiti and piss. Long slashes with a knife on the newly painted pews. Presumably they've got in through a window, then opened the door from the inside.
She moves toward the church door. Walks slowly. Listens carefully in every direction. How has it come to this? Little boys who ought to be too busy thinking about girls and fiddling with their mopeds. How have they turned into queer-bashers and thugs who set fire to churches?
When she passes the porch she stops. Stands beneath the organ loft where the ceiling is so low that tall people have to stoop down. It's silent and gloomy inside the church, but everything seems to be in order. Christ, Laestadius and the Sami maiden Maria glow from the altarpiece, unblemished. But still something makes her hesitate. Something isn't right in there.
There are eighty-six corpses beneath the floor of the church. Most of the time she doesn't think about them at all. They are resting in peace in their graves. But now she can feel their unease rising up through the floor, pricking like needles under her feet.
What's the matter with you? she thinks.
The aisle of the church is covered with a red woven carpet. Exactly where the organ loft ends and the ceiling opens upward, something is lying on the carpet. She bends down.
A stone, she thinks at first. A little white splinter from a stone.
She picks it up between her thumb and index finger and walks toward the sacristy.
But the door to the sacristy is locked, and she turns to go back down the aisle.
As she stands at the front by the altar, she can see the lower part of the organ. It is almost completely covered by a wooden partition that goes across the church from the ceiling, and hangs down one third of the height of the ceiling. But she can see the lower part of the organ. And she can see a pair of feet hanging down in front of the organ loft.
Her first lightning thoug...
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