Authors: Mari Jungstedt
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Crime
A man pushed from a cliff.
A woman missing after a bike ride.
An elderly man washed ashore.
A group of friends closer than most – too close, some might say. Every year they leave their comfortable suburban neighbourhood to go on holiday to a remote Swedish island. But this year, their trip won’t go as expected.
A terrible series of tragedies unfolds, seemingly random, all somehow connected. To find the truth, Detective Superintendent Anders Knutas will have to look into the friends’ tangled pasts. What malevolent force has followed them to the island?
Or was it amongst them all along?
For Anna Samuelsson, beloved little sister
Can you be one and the same person, at exactly the same time?
I mean, be two people?
from Ingmar Bergman’s
THE CAR TURNED
off the main road and continued along the tractor path, which led straight into the woods. Dark had fallen, and only the cold beam from the headlamps showed the way. Here the pines were taller than usual on Gotland. They stood close together, with thick brush in between, their branches reaching out for each other to form a shield from the wind when storms swept across the island. Although right now there was no wind. The solitary car jolted along, only to stop in the glade near the small marsh, which was actually little more than a boggy patch of land. The moon shone round and white above the mirror-smooth water. Mist slowly rose up from the surface towards the sky, where it dispersed and vanished into an empty nothingness.
The couple tumbled out of the car, already immersed in their game. She clung to him, lips against lips, body against body, feverish hands reaching under their clothes. She laughed, and the sound travelled across the water, ricocheting between the gnarled tree trunks and the boulders, aimlessly scattering here and there, as if coming out of nowhere. An old willow stretched out its branches over the black and cold water, grazing the motionless surface.
She leaned against the trunk, spread out her arms and closed her eyes. The smell of damp earth in her nostrils, the cool, dewy air against her bare skin excited her even more. When he bit her hard on the shoulder, she cried out, pulled out of his grasp and ran off towards the woods. Up on the hill across from the marsh, he caught up with her and pressed her against a pine tree. The bark scraped at her back. His eyes glittered
in the dim light. Slowly he began unbuttoning her clothes. He ran his fingers along her shoulder until the cloth gave way and fell in a heap at her feet. She hadn’t bothered to wear a bra. She had been longing for him for days.
She shivered. His face was so close. In the moonlight it looked like the face of a stranger. They didn’t speak during their game. He sighed as he slid his hand over her body, touched her breast, stopped, circled. He carefully caressed her with his fingertips, following the line where her ribs joined, moving down to her navel, then wandering upward again. Slowly, back and forth, until she began to moan with desire. Without her noticing, he leaned down to the bag sitting in the grass at his feet. With his hand behind his back, he cautiously rummaged among the contents until he found what he was looking for. The minuscule, nearly transparent thong she was wearing barely covered her sex. You naughty girl, he thought excitedly. You knew what was coming. He circled her navel with his tongue, then cautiously bit the lower part of her stomach, which was smooth and firm, like a boy’s. Then he moved up, caressing her, holding the blindfold behind his back. He kissed her breasts, reached her slender throat. Such a vulnerable spot, he thought as he tenderly nibbled and licked the delicate skin. He could feel her veins under the tip of his tongue, her blood vessels just below the surface. Then he raised his arms and in a flash tied the blindfold around her eyes. The black mask covered them securely. He knew that everything had now gone dark for her.
‘What are you doing?’ She giggled uncertainly. ‘What are you up to?’
Her hands automatically flew up to her head. Her palms glowed white. He thought they looked like two lost birds, fluttering through the air without knowing where to go.
‘Now, now,’ he admonished her. ‘Take it easy. Never a danger if you’re careful with a stranger,’ he hummed, taking the phrase from an old nursery rhyme. At the same time, he pulled out the rope, which had been hidden inside the bag. The clumsy fumbling of her hands stopped abruptly when he took a firm grip on them, tying the rope tightly around her wrists and hoisting her arms above her head.
A moment later she was tied securely, bound to the tree, and unable to escape. She was helpless, in his power, which was something he enjoyed. It was just the two of them here, the trees their only audience. Far away from everyone and everything. A separate universe. He did as he liked. She was tied to the tree, unseeing, like a newborn baby.
And he exploited her vulnerability to the fullest.
THE MOMENT THAT
Andrea Dahlberg turned on to their usually peaceful residential street, she was struck by a feeling of unease. The affluent community of Terra Nova, just outside of Visby, was an area where nothing much ever happened. Life proceeded at a predictable tempo among the gardens surrounding the detached homes and the sites of the terraced houses. But suddenly there was something different in the air. She stopped, wiped the sweat from her brow, removed the water bottle from her belt and drank a few gulps. She glanced around, studying the façades of the houses and the few cars parked along the road. Not a soul in sight. On the surface everything seemed calm.
She was on her way home from her usual exercise routine: power-walking at a furious pace. For once she hadn’t managed to persuade any of her neighbours to come along. On this particular morning all the women who usually accompanied her were busy. Why? Was it because of the rain? she thought with annoyance. She had never let the weather deter her. And besides, it was only a light drizzle.
Since she was without a companion, she had been forced to confine her 10 kilometres to the small paths around the neighbourhood. How dreary. She preferred the woods but didn’t dare go there alone because she couldn’t relax. She always imagined that a rapist was about to appear as soon as she heard the slightest rustling in a nearby thicket.
Her stomach was growling. She always walked before breakfast. That way she burned off more fat, which was something that Andrea Dahlberg
was extremely interested in doing, even though there was no sign of any extra kilos on her toned body. She had almost reached home now and was thinking about how much she longed for some freshly squeezed orange juice and vanilla yoghurt with her own homemade muesli. Along with slices of kiwi and fresh raspberries from the bushes in her greenhouse in the back garden. Espresso and the morning paper. Always the same routine. Today she could also enjoy greater calm than usual because she was home alone and didn’t have to go in to work. Her holiday had already started. Sam was up in Fårösund working on a film and was expected home the following day. The children were going to spend the next two weeks in the Stockholm archipelago with their maternal grandmother and the man she had been married to for so long that the kids forgot he wasn’t Andrea’s father. They had left yesterday. She should have plenty of peace and quiet.
But then that feeling had come over her. So subtle that it was barely noticeable. Like a whispering at the back of her neck. Andrea again glanced around, looking in all directions. Nobody was behind her. She was the only one on the road. The only person she had met since nearing home was a man wearing a straw hat and sunglasses who had been walking towards her on the opposite pavement. He had raised his hand in greeting, but she hadn’t recognized him. Maybe he was visiting someone. She straightened the visor of her baseball cap and stretched her back, trying to shake off the sense of unease.
She was relieved to see in the distance one of her neighbours coming towards her. Pushing a pram, as usual. Even though Sandra was not one of Andrea’s best friends, she was always pleasant, and she and her husband were part of her general circle of acquaintances.
She greeted Sandra cheerfully. They exchanged a few words about the weather and the upcoming summer holidays. Nothing special. Sandra seemed stressed and kept evading her eyes, her smile a bit strained. A few minutes later she excused herself, saying that she was in a hurry and had an appointment at the social services office.
Andrea was almost home. She passed the Halldéns’ house, which was
made of sand-lime brick painted pink. It was much bigger and showier than the neighbouring houses, with its luxurious, pillar-lined driveway, curving staircase and a fountain on the lawn. She remembered how she and Sam had laughed at such an ostentatious display. Who did the Halldéns think they were? The Ewings in
The rain had stopped, but the air was still heavy with moisture. The street was deserted. The grass was fragrant from the rain. The vegetation in the resplendent gardens was a sumptuous green right now, at the beginning of summer. Things had looked quite different when she and Sam and the kids had moved into the new development fifteen years ago. Back then the land around the houses consisted mostly of heaps of dirt and scraggly, sparsely planted shrubs meant to provide a semblance of hedges along carefully plotted property lines. By now the area was lush and flourishing and spacious houses with neatly mown lawns lined both sides of the street. In a second she would be home. Their house was at the far end, with a wooded area behind. It was a white-painted wooden house, built in an early-twentieth-century style, in spite of the fact that it was only fifteen years old. It had a pitched roof, gingerbread trim, mullioned windows and a glass veranda.
As Andrea got closer, she gave a start. The front door was open. Just slightly ajar, but enough so that she noticed it as she passed their bright-red postbox, which Sam had bought in New York in the spring.
She stopped short. Listened intently. Not a sound except for the quiet dripping from the drainpipe on the garage wall. She fixed her eyes on the door. Had she forgotten to close it when she left for her walk? That was impossible. She was always so careful. An inveterate worrier who regularly checked that the balcony door was locked, that all the windows were closed and the lights off before she left the house. She always set the security alarm that had been installed next to the front door, under the key cupboard. She would not have neglected to lock the door or set the alarm.
Soundlessly she crept closer. No signs of a breakin. Her brain was registering data and the exact time in case she would have to notify the police and the insurance company. Wednesday, 25 June, 9.35 a.m. As
quietly as possible she went up the steps to the porch, cringing at every creak. She paused to listen for any sound from inside. Still nothing. She held her breath. Then she stretched out trembling fingers towards the crack in the doorway. Slowly she pulled the door open.
And stepped inside.
THE SHADOWS MOVED
like elongated, intangible figures across the kitchen floor. Stina Ek sat on the floor with her bare feet on the cool tiles and leaned against the kitchen cupboard in the corner between the sink and the pantry. Her knees were drawn up, her arms folded. Her eyes followed the erratically rippling patterns, dissolving and merging, all depending on the capricious play of the tree branches outside the window. The light was lovely, and the house was completely silent. The sun had suddenly peeked out from the heavy cloud cover. The babysitter had picked up the children right after breakfast. She ought to pack but couldn’t get herself to move. She just remained sitting here, incapable of doing anything at all. As if the air had gone out of her when the house had emptied and she was left alone with her thoughts.
Her controlled façade crumbled, the muscles in her face relaxed, her shoulders drooped, and she found it easier to breathe. She no longer had to make an effort, and that made her feel tired.
On the following day she and Håkan were going away with their best friends: Sam, Andrea, John and Beata. They were neighbours in Terra Nova. All of them had moved in at the same time, when the houses had just been built and the area had the air of a new development. Back then their children were young, and they had met at the day nursery or the playground. The years had passed with a countless number of parents’ meetings, children’s parties, dinners and celebrations that had brought them close, so that over time they had become practically indispensable to each other. They helped each other out by taking the kids to and from
school and football practice; they exchanged recipes and borrowed high-pressure washers and circular saws. In the autumn they set aside special days to rake leaves together, then burned the leaves and grilled sausages. They helped each other put up wallpaper and finish DIY projects. And it wasn’t just daily chores. They had dinners and parties together, including the annual crayfish feast,
parties at Christmas, and celebrations on Walpurgis Eve and at Midsummer. They steadfastly clung to traditions, and everything always had to be done in the same way. A few times they had diverged from the customary festivities, with unfortunate consequences. None of them wanted to risk losing the deep-seated sense of community that they’d established, so now they all kept to the unspoken rules. At least outwardly.