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It all begins with a call to the police. A sixteen-year-old boy, Roger Eriksson, has gone missing in the town of V?ster?s. A search is organized and a group of young scouts makes an awful discovery in a marsh: Roger is dead.
Meanwhile, Sebastian Bergman, psychologist, criminal profiler and one of Sweden's top experts on serial killers, is in V?ster?s to settle his ...
It all begins with a call to the police. A sixteen-year-old boy, Roger Eriksson, has gone missing in the town of Västerås. A search is organized and a group of young scouts makes an awful discovery in a marsh: Roger is dead.
Meanwhile, Sebastian Bergman, psychologist, criminal profiler and one of Sweden's top experts on serial killers, is in Västerås to settle his mother's estate following her death. Sebastian has withdrawn from police work after the death of his wife and daughter in the 2004 tsunami.
When the Crime Investigation Department asks Sebastian for his help in Roger's case, his arrogant manner at first alienates the rest of the team. Pushing forward, though, they begin to make disturbing discoveries about the private school Roger attended....
The man was not a murderer.
He repeated this to himself as he dragged the dead boy down the slope: I am not a murderer.
Murderers are criminals. Murderers are evil. The darkness has swallowed up their souls, and for numerous reasons they have embraced the blackness and welcomed it, turned their backs on the light. He was not evil.
On the contrary.
Hadn't he recently provided clear proof of the absolute opposite? Hadn't he almost completely put aside his own feelings, his own wishes, restrained himself, all for the well-being of others? Turned the other cheek—that was what he had done. Didn't his presence here—in this bog in the middle of nowhere with the dead boy—provide still further proof that he wanted to do the right thing? Had to do the right thing? That he would never be found wanting again? The man stopped and let out a long breath. Although the boy wasn't very old, he was heavy. Muscular. Many hours spent at the gym. But there wasn't far to go. The man grabbed hold of the trouser legs, which had once been white, but now looked almost black in the darkness. The boy had bled so profusely.
Yes, it was wrong to kill. The fifth commandment: Thou shalt not kill. But there were exceptions. In many places the Bible actually justified killing. There were those who deserved it. Wrong could be right. Nothing was an absolute given.
And what if the reason behind the killing was not selfish? If the loss of one human life would save others? Give them a chance. Give them a life. In that case, surely, the act could not be classed as evil. If the intention was good.
The man stopped by the dark waters of the little pool. Normally it was several yards deep, but the recent rain had saturated the ground, and now it was more like a small lake in the middle of the overgrown bog.
The man leaned forward and seized the shoulders of the boy's T-shirt. With considerable difficulty he managed to get the lifeless body into a half-standing position. For a moment he looked straight into the boy's eyes. What had the boy's final thought been? Had there even been time for a final thought? Did he realize he was going to die? Did he wonder why? Did he think about all the things he hadn't managed to do in his short life, or about those things he had actually done?
It didn't matter.
Why was he torturing himself like this—more than necessary?
He had no choice.
He couldn't let them down.
And yet, he hesitated. But no, they wouldn't understand. Wouldn't forgive. Wouldn't turn the other cheek, as he had done.
He gave the boy a push and the body fell into the water with an audible splash. The man gave a start, unprepared for the sound in the dark silence.
The boy's body sank down into the water and disappeared.
The man who was not a murderer walked back to his car, which was parked on the little forest trail, and headed for home.
"Västerås police, Klara Lidman speaking."
"I'd like to report my son missing."
The woman sounded almost apologetic, as if she wasn't quite sure she had the right number, or she didn't really expect to be believed. Klara Lidman reached for her notepad, even though the conversation was being recorded.
"Could I have your name, please?"
"Eriksson, Lena Eriksson. My son's name is Roger. Roger Eriksson."
"And how old is your son?"
"Sixteen. I haven't seen him since yesterday afternoon."
Klara made a note of the age and realized she would have to pass this on for immediate action. If he really had disappeared, of course.
"What time yesterday afternoon?"
"He ran off at five o'clock."
Twenty-two hours ago. Twenty-two important hours when it came to a disappearance.
"Do you know where he went?"
"Yes, to see Lisa."
"His girlfriend. I called her today, but she said he left her at about ten o'clock last night."
Klara crossed out "twenty-two" and replaced it with "seventeen."
"So where did he go after that?"
"She didn't know. Home, she thought. But he hasn't been home. He hasn't been home all night. And now the whole day has almost gone."
And you didn't ring until now, Klara thought. It struck her that the woman on the other end of the phone didn't sound particularly agitated. More subdued. Resigned.
"What's Lisa's surname?"
Klara made a note of the name.
"Does Roger have a cell phone? Have you tried calling him?"
"Yes, but there's no reply."
"And you have no idea where he might have gone? Could he have stayed over with friends, something like that?"
"No, he would have called me."
Lena Eriksson paused briefly and Klara assumed that her voice was breaking, but when she heard the sucking intake of breath on the other end she realized that the woman was taking a long drag on a cigarette. She heard Lena blow out the smoke.
"He's just gone."
The dream came every night.
It gave him no peace.
Always the same dream, bringing with it the same fear. It irritated him. Drove him crazy. Sebastian Bergman was better than that. More than anyone, he knew what dreams meant; more than anyone, he ought to be able to rise above these febrile remnants of the past. But however prepared he was, however aware of the real significance of the dream, he still couldn't avoid being caught up in it. It was as if he was stuck between what he knew the dream meant and who he was, and he was unable to move between the two.
Outside, it was starting to get light. Sebastian's mouth was dry. Had he cried out? Presumably not, since the woman by his side had not woken up. She was breathing quietly, and he could see a naked breast half covered by her long hair. Sebastian straightened his cramped fingers without giving it a thought—he was used to waking up with his right hand tightly clenched after the dream. Instead, he tried to remember the name of the person sleeping by his side.
She must have mentioned it at some point during the evening.
Not that it really mattered—he had no intention of seeing her again—but rooting around in his memory helped to chase away the last wisps of the dream that seemed to cling to all his senses.
The dream that had pursued him for more than five years. The same dream, the same images every night. The whole of his subconscious on edge, working through the one thing he couldn't cope with during the day.
Dealing with the guilt.
Sebastian slowly got out of bed, suppressing a yawn as he picked up his clothes from the chair where he had dropped them several hours ago. As he dressed he gazed uninterestedly around the room: a bed; two white fitted wardrobes, one with a mirrored door; a simple white bedside table from IKEA with an alarm clock and a magazine on it; a small table with a photograph of the child she had on alternate weeks; and a few other bits and pieces next to the chair from which he had just picked up his clothes. Nondescript prints on the walls, which some skilled real estate agent had no doubt described as "cappuccino colored" but which were, in fact, dirty beige. The room was like the sex he had experienced in it: unimaginative and slightly boring, but it did the job. As usual. Unfortunately, the satisfaction didn't last very long.
Sebastian closed his eyes. This was always the most painful moment. The transition to reality. The emotional U-turn. He knew it so well. He concentrated on the woman in the bed, particularly her visible nipple. What was her name again?
He knew he had introduced himself when he bought the drinks; he always did. Never when he asked if the seat beside her was free, whether he could buy her a drink, what she would like. Always when he placed the glass in front of her.
"I'm Sebastian, by the way."
And what had she replied? Something beginning with K—he was fairly sure of that. He fastened his belt. The buckle made a faint, metallic scraping noise.
"Are you leaving?" Her voice rough with sleep, her eyes searching for a clock.
"I thought we were going to have breakfast together. What time is it?"
The woman propped herself up on one elbow. How old was she? Forty, maybe? She pushed a strand of hair off her face. Sleep was fading, gradually giving way to the realization that the morning she had pictured was never going to happen. They would not be eating breakfast while reading the newspaper and chatting easily; there would be no Sunday stroll. He didn't want to get to know her better, and he wouldn't call, whatever he might say.
She knew all that. So he simply said,
Sebastian didn't make any attempt at a name. He was no longer even sure it began with K.
The street outside was silent in the dawn light. The suburb was sleeping and every sound seemed muted, as if no one wanted to wake it up. Even the traffic on Nynäsvägen, a short distance away, sounded respectfully subdued. Sebastian stopped by the sign at the crossroads: Varpavägen. Somewhere in Gubbängen. Quite a long way from home. Was the subway running at this hour of the morning? They had taken a cab last night. Stopped at a 7-Eleven to buy bread for toast; she remembered she didn't have any at home. Because he would be staying for breakfast, wouldn't he? They had bought bread and juice, he and ... It was so fucking annoying. What the hell was her name? Sebastian set off along the deserted street.
He had hurt her, whatever her name was.
In fourteen hours he would be going to Västerås to continue his work. Although that was different: he couldn't hurt the woman in Västerås anymore.
It started to rain.
What a bloody awful morning.
Everything was going to hell in a handcart. Inspector Thomas Haraldsson's shoes were letting in water, his radio was dead, and he had lost the rest of his search party. The sun was shining straight in his face, which meant he had to screw up his eyes in order to avoid stumbling over the undergrowth and roots scattered unevenly across the marshy ground. He swore to himself and looked at his watch. In just two hours Jenny would be on her lunch break at the hospital. She would get in the car and drive home, hoping he would have made it. But there was no chance. He would still be in this fucking forest.
Haraldsson's left foot sank deeper. He could feel his socks sucking up the cold water. The air held the young, fleeting warmth of spring, but winter still had the water clutched in its icy grip. He shivered, then managed to extract his foot and find solid ground.
He looked around. East should be that way. Weren't the National Service recruits over there? Or the scouts? Then again, he could have traveled in a complete circle and totally lost his bearings as to where north might be. He spotted a small hill a short distance away and realized this meant dry ground, a patch of paradise in this sodden hell. He started to move in that direction. His foot sank once more. The right one this time. Fan-fucking-tastic.
It was all Hanser's fault.
He wouldn't be standing here soaked to the skin halfway up his legs if it weren't for the fact that Hanser wanted to give the impression that she was strong and capable of decisive action. And she certainly needed to, because at heart she was not a real cop. She was one of those law school graduates who sneaks through and grabs the top job without getting her hands dirty—or, as in Haraldsson's case, her feet wet.
No: if Haraldsson had been in charge, this would have been handled very differently. True, the kid had been missing since Friday and according to regulations the correct procedure was to widen the search area, particularly as someone had reported "nocturnal activities" and "lights in the forest" around Listakärr that particular weekend. But Haraldsson knew from experience that this was an exercise in futility. The kid was in Stockholm, laughing at his worried mother. He was sixteen. That was the kind of thing sixteen-year-old kids did. Laughed at their mothers.
The wetter Haraldsson got, the more he hated her. She was the worst thing that had ever happened to him. Young, attractive, successful, political; a representative of the new, modern police force.
She had gotten in his way. When she'd held her first meeting in Västerås, Haraldsson had realized that his career had screeched to a halt. He had applied for the job. She'd gotten it. She would be in charge for at least five years. His five years. The ladder leading upward had been snatched away. Now his career had slowly begun to plateau instead, and it felt like only a matter of time before it started to slide downward. It was almost symbolic that he was now standing up to his knees in stinking mud in a forest some six miles from Västerås.
The text message he had received this morning said SNUGGLE LUNCH 2DAY in big letters. It meant that Jenny was coming home during her lunch break to have sex with him, then they would have sex once or twice more during the course of the evening. That was how their lives were these days. Jenny was undergoing treatment for their failure to conceive a child, and together with the doctor she had worked out a schedule that was supposed to optimize their chances. Today was one of those optimum days. Hence the text message. Haraldsson had mixed feelings. On the one hand he appreciated the fact that their sex life had increased by several hundred percent of late. That Jenny always wanted him. At the same time, he couldn't escape the feeling that it wasn't really him she wanted: it was his sperm. If she hadn't been so desperate for a child, it would never have occurred to her to head home at lunchtime for a quickie. There was something of the stud farm about the whole thing. As soon as an egg began its journey toward the womb, they were at it like rabbits. In between times, too, to be honest, just to be on the safe side. But never for pleasure these days, never for the closeness. What had happened to the passion? The desire? And now she would come home during her lunch break to an empty house. Perhaps he should have called her and asked if he should jerk off before he left and stick it in a jar in the fridge. Unfortunately he wasn't completely certain Jenny would think it was all that bad an idea.
It had started the previous Saturday.
A call had been put through to the Västerås police via the emergency number at about 3:00 p.m. A mother had reported her sixteen-year-old son missing. Since the call involved a minor, it was given top priority. Entirely in accordance with regulations.
Unfortunately the prioritized report was left lying around until Sunday, when a patrol was asked to follow it up. This resulted in a visit by two uniformed officers to the boy's mother at approximately 4:00 p.m. The officers took down the details once again, and their report was logged when they went off duty later that evening. At that point no action had been taken, apart from the fact that there were two neat, identical reports about the same disappearance. Both marked TOP PRIORITY.
It was not until Monday morning, when Roger Eriksson had been missing for fifty- eight hours, that the duty officer noticed that no action had been taken. Unfortunately a union meeting about the National Police Board's proposals on new uniforms took up some considerable time, and it wasn't until after lunch on Monday that the case was passed on to Haraldsson. When he saw the date of receipt he thanked his lucky stars that the patrol had visited Lena Eriksson on Sunday evening. There was no need for her to know that they had only written another report. No, the investigation had gotten under way on Sunday, but had produced nothing so far. That was the version Haraldsson intended to stick to.
Haraldsson realized that he would need at least some fresh information before he spoke to Lena Eriksson, so he tried calling Lisa Hansson, Roger's girlfriend, but she was still in school.
He checked both Lena and Roger against official police records. There were a few incidents of shoplifting involving Roger, but the latest was about a year ago, and it was difficult to make any link with the disappearance. Nothing on the mother.
Haraldsson called the local authority and found out that Roger attended Palmlövska High School.
Not good, he thought.
Excerpted from Dark Secrets by Michael Hjorth, Hans Rosenfeldt. Copyright © 2013 Michael Hjorth Hans Rosenfeldt. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
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Posted July 22, 2013
Reviewed by Denise Stern for Readers' Favorite
Dark Secrets, written by Michael Hjorth and Hans Rosenfeldt, tells the story of Sebastian Bergman, a formerly highly regarded police psychologist, until his wife and daughter were killed in a tragic incident. He descends into numerous self-destructive behaviors, including distancing himself from those around him as well as his former profession. Nothing much captures the interest of Sebastian except for women with whom he seeks physical release, but not anything more. While returning to take care of his estranged mother’s estate after her death, Sebastian is drawn into a task force of sorts to help solve the crime. As he does nothing to ingratiate himself to the group at large, the killer strikes again, and again. Despite every effort to the contrary, Sebastian finds himself inexorably drawn to search out the killer, but most of all, the motives that drive the killer.
Authors Michael Hjorth and Hans Rosenfeld have created a well-paced thriller with a Swedish locale in Dark Secrets that explores the depths of the human psyche, of both its main character Sebastian Bergman and the serial killer. The book, also found under its original title Sebastian Bergman as well as the Swedish Det Fördolda, is well written, bringing a somewhat mentally crippled protagonist to lead the story. The three-dimensional aspect of the main character is addictive, and while the reader may, at times, be put off by Sebastian’s faults, one can hardly look away. The writing style and pace is excellent, which suits the tone and ambiance of the story perfectly. All in all, a great read that moves quickly from start to finish.
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