Room No. 10 (Erik Winter Series #7)by Åke Edwardson
A YOUNG WOMAN IS DISCOVERED hanged in a room in a decrepit hotel, and Gothenburg’s Chief Inspector Erik Winter must try to figure out what happened. As Winter looks around, he realizes that he was in the same hotel room many years earlier, when it was the last known location of a woman who subsequently disappeared and was never found. The two women seem to have nothing in common except for this hotel room, but Winter suspects that there may be other connections.
The young woman’s parents are bereft and unable to explain the puzzling contents of a note she left behind. Winter, however, senses that they are holding back some secret that might help him to find her murderer. As he pursues his hunch and digs into the old police report on the woman who disappeared—one of his first cases as a young detective—Winter becomes increasingly convinced that the two cases are somehow related. Room No. 10 is a first-rate thriller, suffused with the gray seaside beauty of Gothenburg and filled with the characters that Åke Edwardson’s readers have come to love: Winter, the veteran detective who veers between pessimism and optimism but never gives up; Bertil Ringmar, the methodical old-timer whose analytical mind keeps everyone focused; hotheaded Fredrik Halders, whose temper sometimes overwhelms his passion for justice; and Aneta Djanali, Halders’s girlfriend, an immigrant from Burkina Faso whose ability to talk to other women can open new leads. As compelling as they are dedicated, they are an unforgettable team determined to find a bizarre killer.
“Fans of Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell will appreciate the swift pacing and compelling cast in this A-level Scandinavian mystery series.”
"A must-read for those who appreciate psychologically astute mysteries."
"Swedish award-winning crime fiction writer Edwardson is at the top of his game. . . . Readers of Scandinavian crime fiction should add Edwardson to their reading list. . . . Lovers of fiction by Iceland's Arnuldar Indridason and Sweden's Kjell Eriksson will revel in these works."
Read an Excerpt
Room No. 10
The woman’s right eye was blinking. One, two, three, four times. Chief Inspector Erik Winter closed his eyes. When he opened them again he saw that the blinking continued, like a spastic movement, like something alive. Winter could see the August light reflected in the woman’s eye. The sun sent a ray through the open window. Winter could hear the morning traffic down on the street; a car passed, a streetcar clattered in the distance, a seabird screeched. He heard steps, a woman’s heels against the cobblestones. She was walking quickly; she had someplace to go.
Winter looked at the woman again, and at the floor under her. It was made of wood. The ray of sunlight carved its way through the floor like fire. It continued through the wall, into the next room, maybe through all the rooms on this floor.
The woman’s eyelids trembled a few more times. Take away those damn electrodes now. We know now. He moved his eyes away from her. He saw the curtains in the window billow from a slight breeze. It brought with it the scents of the city as well as the sounds. The smell of gas, the oil perfume. The salty scent of sea, he could smell it. He thought suddenly of the sea, and of the line of the horizon, and of what lay beyond. Of journeys, he thought of journeys. Someone said something in the room, but Winter didn’t hear. He was still thinking of journeys, and of how he would have to go off on a journey through this woman’s life. A journey backward. He looked around in the room again. This room.
• • •
The desk clerk had been on an errand to the room; it was still unclear why.
He had rushed up to her.
He had called from there, on his cell phone.
The county communications center had sent an ambulance and a patrol car to the hotel. The police car had driven the wrong way on a one-way street. All the streets were one-way in the old neighborhoods south of Central Station.
The two detectives, a man and a woman, had been shown to the room on the third floor by a woman who looked very frightened. The desk clerk had been waiting outside. The door had been open. The police saw the body on the floor. The desk clerk had explained in a thin voice what he’d seen. His gaze had searched its way into the room, as though it belonged there. One of the police officers, the watch commander, the woman, had quickly gone into the room and knelt next to the body, which lay in an unnatural position on the floor.
The noose was still pulled tight around her throat. There was an overturned chair a meter from her head. There was no life in her face or in the ruptured eyes. The commander felt for a pulse that didn’t exist. She looked up and saw the beam that crossed the ceiling. It looked strange, medieval. The whole room looked medieval, like something from another world, or from a film. The room was neat, aside from the overturned chair. She could hear the ambulance howling through the open window now; first from far off and then loudly and brutally as it slowed down on the street. But it was a meaningless sound.
She looked at the woman’s face again; her open eyes. She looked at the rope, at the chair. At the beams up there. It was a long way up.
“Call forensics,” she said to her colleague.
• • •
The forensics team had come. Winter had come. The medical examiner had come.
Now the examiner was taking away the two electrodes she had stuck next to the woman’s right eye. There was nothing she could fix here anymore, but she could try to determine how long the woman had been dead. The closer she was to the moment of death, the stronger the contractions of her muscles. The moment of death, Winter thought. It’s a strange phrase. That is a strange method.
The medical examiner looked at Winter. Her name was Pia Eriksson Fröberg. They had been working together for nearly ten years, but to Winter it sometimes felt as if it had been twice as long. That might be a result of the crimes, or of something else.
“Six to eight hours,” said Fröberg.
Winter nodded. He looked at his watch. It was quarter to eleven. The woman had died in the early morning, or late at night if one preferred. It had been dark outside.
He looked around the room. The three forensics technicians were working with the chair, with the beam, with the floor around the woman, with the few other pieces of furniture that were in the room, with everything that might yield clues. If there were any. No, not if. A perpetrator always leaves something behind. Always. If we don’t believe that, we might as well pack up and head out into the sunshine.
The flash from the camera caused the room to take on a different light at uneven intervals, as though the sun outside also wanted to be a part of the action in here.
If there is a perpetrator. He looked up at the beam. He looked at the woman on the floor again. He looked at the overturned chair. One of the technicians was working with the surface, the surface for sitting. Or for standing. He looked up at Winter and shook his head.
Winter looked at the woman’s right hand. It was painted white, bright white, snow white. The paint was dry; it extended halfway up to her elbow. It looked like a grotesque glove. White paint. There was a can on the floor, on a sheet of newspaper, as though the most important thing in this room was to protect the floor. More important than life.
There was a paintbrush on the sheet of newspaper. The paint had run out a little bit, over a photograph that depicted a city in a foreign country. Winter recognized the silhouette of a mosque. He could smell the paint when he stood nearby, when he knelt.
There was a sheet of paper on the room’s only table.
• • •
The letter was handwritten and barely ten lines long. Maybe she’d written it somewhere else. There were no pads of paper, no pens in the hotel room. Room number ten. The numbers were made of gilded brass; they hung from the door on a nail. The third floor of four. Inside, a scent lingered after the window had been closed. It was sweet, but that word has many implications.
Winter picked up the copy of the letter from his desk and studied the handwriting again. He couldn’t tell whether her hand had shaken as she wrote her last words, and he hadn’t yet been able to compare them with other words, with other writing by her. They had sent everything to SKL, the national forensics lab—the letter and other things the woman had evidently written.
I love you both and I will always love you no matter what happens to me and you’ll always be with me wherever I go and if I’ve made you angry at me I want to ask for your forgiveness and I know that you’ll forgive me no matter what happens to me and no matter what happens to you and I know that we will meet again.
That’s where she had put the first period. Then she had written the next lines and then it had happened. No matter what happens to me. It was repeated two times in the letter to her parents, written with what Winter thought was a steady hand, even if the technicians thought they saw tremors under a microscope.
The hand that she’d used to write the letter that Winter held in his own hand. He looked at it. He couldn’t see it shaking, but he knew that it could be. He was still human, after all. Her white hand. A perfect painting. Or a hand made of plaster. Something that no longer belonged to her. That might as well be removed. That’s what he had thought of. He wondered why. Had someone else thought the same thing?
Her name was Paula Ney and she was twenty-nine years old and in two days she would have turned thirty, on September 1. The first day of fall in Sweden. She had her own apartment, but she hadn’t been living there the past two weeks because the landlord was renovating and the workmen went from apartment to apartment and then back again; one hour here, one hour there, and the renovation was going to take a very long time. She had moved back to her parents’ house.
Early yesterday evening she went to the movies with a friend and after the show they each had a glass of red wine at a bar in the vicinity of the theater and then they parted at Grönsakstorget. From there, Paula would take the streetcar, she had said, and that’s where the traces of her stopped until she was discovered in the room at Hotel Revy the next morning, one and a half kilometers east of Grönsakstorget. There was no streetcar that passed Revy. It was a strange name.
• • •
The hotel was also strange, as though it had been left behind from a worse time. Or a better one, according to some. It was in the dense neighborhood south of Central Station, in one of the buildings that had survived the demolitions of the sixties. Five blocks had survived, as though this particular part of the city had been in the shadows when the city planners had studied the map, maybe during a picnic in Trädgårdsföreningen just across the canal.
Revy had been there for a long time, and before that a restaurant had been there. It was gone now. And the hotel stood completely in the shadow of the Sheraton on Drottningtorget. There was some sort of symbolism in that.
Revy had also had a reputation for being a brothel. It was probably its proximity to Central Station and the great turnover of guests of both sexes. Most of that was over now; the rumors and the reality. Winter knew that the trafficking team took a look at the place sometimes, but not even the whores and the johns were at home in the past. Maybe the owner had been charged with pimping one time too many. God knows who stayed there now. Hardly anyone. The room they had found Paula Ney in had been empty for three weeks. Before that, an unemployed actor from Skövde had stayed there for four nights. He had come to the city to audition for a television series but hadn’t gotten the role. Just a small role, he had said on the phone with Winter’s colleague Fredrik Halders: I was going to play dead.
Winter heard a knock and looked up. Before he had time to say anything, the door opened and Chief Inspector Bertil Ringmar, third in rank in the homicide unit, stepped in through the door and closed it behind him and walked quickly through the room and sat down on the chair in front of Winter’s desk.
“Please come in,” said Winter.
“It’s just me,” said Ringmar, pushing the chair closer. It scraped against the floor. He looked at Winter. “I went up to Öberg.”
Torsten Öberg was a chief inspector, like Winter and Ringmar, and he was the deputy chief of the forensics unit on the floor above the homicide unit.
“He was working on someth—”
The telephone on Winter’s desk rang and interrupted Ringmar in the middle of his sentence. Winter lifted the receiver.
“Erik Winter here.”
He listened without saying anything else, hung up, stood.
“Speak of the devil. Öberg wants to see us.”
• • •
“It’s hard to hang someone else,” said Öberg. He was leaning against one of the workbenches in the laboratory. “Especially if the victim is fighting for his life.” He gestured toward the objects on the counter. “But it’s difficult even without resistance. Bodies are heavy.” He looked at Winter. “That goes for young women, too.”
“Did she fight?” Winter asked.
“Not in the least.”
“That’s your job, Erik.”
“Come on, Torsten. You had something for us.”
“She never stood on that chair,” said Öberg. “From what we can tell, no one has ever stood on it.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Did the desk clerk say that he jumped up and grabbed hold of the end of the rope?”
“He never climbed up on the chair?”
“No. It tipped over when the body fell.”
“She has a wound on her shoulder,” said Öberg. “She could have gotten it then.”
Winter nodded again. He had spoken with Fröberg.
“The desk clerk, his name was Bergström, Bergström got hold of the end and pulled down as hard as he could and the knot came loose.”
“Sounds like he knew what he was doing,” said Öberg.
But he hadn’t had any idea, he had said to Winter during the first short interrogation in a small, nasty-smelling room behind the lobby. He had only acted. Instinctively, he had said. Instinctively. He wanted to save lives.
He hadn’t recognized the woman, not then, not later. She hadn’t checked in; she wasn’t a guest there.
He had seen the letter, the sheet of paper. The suicide note—he had realized what it was the second before he took action. Someone who was tired of life. He had seen the chair standing under her, but also the end of the rope, and he had thrown himself forward and up.
“That chair has been carefully cleaned,” said Öberg.
“What do you mean by that?” Winter asked.
“If she wanted to hang herself, first she would have had to climb up on the chair and tie the rope around the beam,” said Öberg. “But she didn’t stand on that chair. And if she did, someone wiped it off afterward. And it wasn’t her.”
“We understand that,” said Ringmar.
“It’s a smooth surface,” Öberg continued. “She was barefoot.”
“Her shoes were by the door,” said Ringmar.
“She was barefoot when we got there,” said Öberg. “She died barefoot.”
“No clues on the chair,” Winter said, mostly to himself.
“As you gentlemen know, the lack of clues is as interesting as clues themselves,” Öberg said.
Winter could see that Öberg was proud, or something like that. He had something to tell them.
“There are no fingerprints on the rope, but I forewarned you of that, didn’t I?”
“Yes,” Winter answered, “and I’m not unfamiliar with nylon rope.”
The rope was blue, an obscene blue color that recalled neon. The rough surface seldom captured any prints from fingers. It was hardly even possible to tell whether someone had been wearing gloves.
But there were other clues. Winter had seen the technicians working in room ten. They carefully swabbed the rope for traces of saliva, strands of hair, sweat. It was very difficult not to leave some trace of DNA behind.
A person who wore gloves might have spit on the glove.
Brushed back his hair.
But it wasn’t impossible to go free. Winter tried to keep a cool head these days, when the DNA dream of solving and resolving every crime could be a pipe dream, a daydream.
He knew that Öberg had sent all the tests to SKL.
“Gert found something more,” said Öberg, and there was a flash in one of his eyes. “Inside the knot of the noose.”
“We’re listening,” said Winter.
“Blood. Not much, but enough.”
“Good,” said Ringmar. “Very good.”
“One of the tiniest flecks I’ve seen,” said Öberg. “Gert loosened the knot, and because he is a thorough man, he took a thorough look.”
“I didn’t see any blood in that room,” said Winter.
“None of us saw any blood,” said Öberg. “And above all, not on the woman.” He turned to Winter. “Has Pia found any small cuts on her body?”
“No. At least not yet.”
“So if the rope isn’t Paula Ney’s . . .” Ringmar said.
“. . . then it’s someone else’s,” Öberg supplied, and his eye flashed again.
• • •
“I talked to Paula’s parents an hour ago,” Ringmar said; he moved his chair back half a meter, and the sound was louder now. They were back in Winter’s office. Winter felt a warmth, like the beginning of a fever. Ringmar moved his chair again; it scraped again.
“Can’t you lift up the chair?” Winter said.
“But I’m sitting in it!”
“What did they say? The parents?”
“She hadn’t seemed different on the last night, or the afternoon. Or the week before. Just irritated at the workmen, or the landlord. That’s what they said, anyway. The parents. Or the mom, rather. I spoke to her mom. Elisabeth.”
Winter had also spoken to her, yesterday afternoon. He had spoken with her husband, Paula’s father. Mario. He had come to Sweden at a very young age and found work at SKF, the ball bearing factory. Many Italians had found work there.
Mario Ney, Paula Ney. Her purse had been on the bed in the hotel room. Until now, Öberg and his colleagues had not found out whether anyone had gone through the contents in the purse. There was a wallet with a debit card and some cash. No driver’s license, but a gym membership card from Friskis & Svettis. Other little things.
And a pocket with four photographs, the kind that are taken in photo booths. They looked recent.
Everything in that bag indicated that it belonged to Paula Ney, and that it was Paula Ney who had been hanged in the dark hotel room that only let in a thin streak of sun at a time.
“When would Paula have moved back to the apartment?” Winter asked.
“Sometime in the future, as she put it.”
“Did she say that? Did her parents say that she said that?”
“It was the dad who said it, I guess. I asked the mom.”
Winter held up the letter, a copy of the letter. The words were the same as in the original. Those ten lines. Above them: “To Mario and Elisabeth.”
“Why did she write this? And why to her parents?”
“She didn’t have a husband,” said Ringmar.
“Answer the first question first,” said Winter.
“I don’t have an answer.”
“Was she forced to?”
“Do we know that she wrote this letter after she disappeared, or whatever we should call it? After she left her friend at Grönsakstorget?”
“No. But we’re assuming it.”
“We’re linking the letter to the murder,” said Winter. “But maybe it’s about something else.”
“What would that be?”
They were into one of their routines, methods, questions and answers, and questions again in a stream of consciousness that might move forward or backward, any direction at all, as long as it didn’t stand still.
“Maybe she needed to get something off her chest,” said Winter. “She couldn’t say it face-to-face. Face-to-faces. Something had happened. She wanted to explain herself, or find reconciliation. Or just contact them. She wanted to leave home, for a little while. She didn’t want to be with her parents.”
“That’s wishful thinking,” said Ringmar.
“The alternative is just too horrible.”
Winter didn’t answer. Ringmar was right, of course. He had tried to see the scene in front of him because it was part of his work, and he had closed his eyes when he saw it: Paula in front of a piece of paper, someone behind her, above her. A pen in her hand. Write. Write!
“Are those her words?” Ringmar asked.
“Was she taking dictation?” Winter asked.
“Or was she allowed to write what she wanted?”
“I think so,” Winter said, reading the first sentences again.
“Why?” Ringmar asked.
“It’s too personal.”
“Maybe it’s the murderer’s personality.”
“You mean that it’s his message to the parents?”
“I don’t think so,” said Winter. “They’re her words.”
“Her last words,” Ringmar said.
“If more letters don’t show up.”
“What does she mean by saying she wants to ask forgiveness?” Winter said, reading the words again.
“What she writes,” said Ringmar. “That she wants to ask forgiveness if she made her parents angry.”
“Is that the first thing a person thinks of in a letter like this? Would she think of that?”
“Would a person think at all?” said Ringmar. “She knows that she’s in a bad situation. She’s ordered to write a suicide note.” Ringmar fidgeted in his chair again but didn’t move it. “Yes. It’s possible that thoughts of guilt would pop up then. Same with thoughts of reconciliation.”
“Was there any guilt? I mean, real guilt?”
“Not according to her parents. Nothing that was . . . well, anything more than the usual between parents and children. There’s no old feud, or whatever you’d call it.”
“Although we don’t know that,” said Winter.
Ringmar didn’t answer. He got up and walked over to the window and looked out through the slits in the blinds. He could see the wind in the black treetops in front of Fattighusån. There was a weak light over the houses on the other side of the canal; it was something other than the clear glimmer of a high summer night.
“Have you ever been involved in something like this before, Erik?” Ringmar said without turning around. “A letter from . . . the other side.”
“The other side?”
“Come on, Erik,” Ringmar said, turning around, “the poor girl knows she’s going to be murdered and she writes a letter about love and reconciliation and forgiveness, and then we get a call from that damn flea-ridden hotel and all we can do is go there and find out what happened.”
“You’re not the only one who’s frustrated here, Bertil.”
“So—have you ever been involved with something like this before? A suicide note like this one?”
“Written by a hand that is then painted? Painted white? As though it were . . . separate from the body?”
“What the hell is going on, Erik?”
Winter got up without answering. He felt a sharp pain in his neck and across one shoulder blade. He had sat deep in concentration over the letter for too long and had forgotten to move his forty-five-year-old body, and that didn’t work anymore; he could no longer handle sitting still for very long. But he was still alive. He had his hands in front of him. He could lift them and massage his neck. He did so, lowered his hands, and walked over to Ringmar, who was still standing at the window. Winter opened it a few centimeters. He could smell the scents of the evening; there was a sort of freshness to them.
Ringmar was furious. He was professional and furious, and that was a good combination. It invigorated the imagination, urged it on. A police officer without an imagination was a poor hunter, mediocre at best. Police officers who managed to turn everything off when they stepped out of the police station and went home. Perhaps it was good for them, but it wasn’t good for their work; an officer with no imagination could turn it all off after working hours—and then wonder why he never got results. Many were like that, Winter had thought many times during his career at the CID; there were plenty of barely competent second-raters who couldn’t think farther than to the top of the hill. In that way, they were related to psychopaths, lacking the ability to think past their own noses: is there anything on the other side of the hill? Nah, I can’t see anything there, so there can’t be anything there. I think I’ll pass this car.
“I don’t know if it’s a message to us,” Winter said. “The hand. The white hand.”
“What was it about her hand?” said Ringmar.
“What do you mean?”
“Is there some . . . history surrounding her hand? Why did he paint her hand with that damn enamel paint?”
The paint came from Beckers; it was called Syntem, and it was an antique white semigloss enamel paint for indoor carpentry, furniture, walls, and iron surfaces. All of this could be read on the liter can that stood in room ten. It was the technicians’ job to establish that the paint had also been used on a human body. There was no reason to doubt it, but they had to be certain. One thing was already certain: Paula Ney had never touched the paintbrush that lay next to the can, which was nearly full. The paint that had been used had been used to paint Paula’s hand. Then the shaft of the paintbrush had been carefully wiped off.
“Nothing . . . abnormal about her hand, according to her parents,” Winter said.
Good God. Her parents hadn’t seen her hand yet. Fröberg and Öberg weren’t done with it. Winter had had to keep it from her parents and simultaneously tell them about it, ask questions about it. What a fucking job this is.
“I have all the family photos in my office,” Ringmar said.
“We won’t find anything there,” Winter said.
Ringmar didn’t answer.
“What was he going to do with it, then?” said Ringmar. “The hand?”
“You make it sound like he was carrying it with him.”
“Well, doesn’t it feel like that?”
“I don’t know, Bertil.”
“There is some reason for this. That bastard wants to say something to us. He wants to tell us something.” Ringmar flung one hand into the air. “About himself.” He looked at Winter. “Or about her.” He looked out through the window. Winter followed his gaze. There was only darkness out there. “Or about both of them.”
“They knew each other?” Winter said.
“They had planned to meet at an out-of-the-way hotel? And to be on the safe side they didn’t bother to announce their arrival in the lobby?”
“And we believe this?”
“But she knew the murderer?”
“I think so, Erik.”
Winter didn’t answer.
“I have been in this damn line of work ten years longer than you, Erik, I’ve seen almost everything, but I’m having trouble putting this together.”
“We’ll put it together,” said Winter.
“Naturally,” said Ringmar, but he didn’t smile.
“Speaking of before,” said Winter. “When I was really green, it was my first year as a detective, I think, I worked on something that involved Hotel Revy.”
“This is definitely not the first time that place has been involved in an investigation,” said Ringmar. “You know that as well as I do.”
“Yes . . . but the case . . . or whatever I should call it, was special.”
Winter contemplated the night outside, a dim darkness and a dim light, as though nothing could make up its mind out there now that summer was nearly over and autumn was slowly sliding up out of the earth with the mist.
“It was a missing person,” said Winter. “I remember it now.”
“At Hotel Revy?”
“It was a woman,” said Winter. “I don’t remember her name right now. But she disappeared from her home. Was going to run some errand. She was married, I think. And as I recall she had checked in at Hotel Revy the night before she disappeared.”
“Disappeared? Disappeared to where?”
Winter didn’t answer. He sank down into his thoughts, into his memory, as the darkness out there sank over roof ridges and streets and parks and harbors and hotels.
“What happened to her?” Ringmar asked. “I guess I’ve investigated too many missing persons; they run together.”
“I don’t know,” Winter said, staring at Ringmar’s face. “No one knows. I don’t think she was ever found. No.”
• • •
Winter had been twenty-seven and a green detective, and the late summer had been greener than usual because it had rained more than usual all summer. Winter had moved through the city every day without a thought of vacation, but he had thought of the future, this future, the future of a detective; he had cut his legal studies short before they really even started in order to become a police officer, but after his training and one year in uniform and six months in plainclothes he still wasn’t sure if he wanted to devote his life to penetrating the underworld. There was so much aboveground that was so much brighter. Even when it rained. In his six months or so on the force he had seen things that normal people never see, even if they live for a hundred years. That was how he thought: normal people. The people who lived aboveground. He lived there, too, sometimes; he came and went, crawled up and crawled down again, but he knew that his life would never be “normal.” We have our own world down here, we police officers, along with our thieves and murderers and rapists. We understand. We understand one another.
He had begun to understand what understanding involved. When he did, it became easier. I’m becoming like them, he thought. The murderers.
I’m becoming more and more like them because they can never become like me.
He realized that he had to think in irregular patterns to find answers to mysteries. It was easier then. It was also more difficult then. He could feel himself changing as he became better and better at his job, at the way he thought. When he had found the answers to the mysteries, or parts of the answers, he said that he had an active imagination and that was all there was to it. But it wasn’t just imagination. He had thought like them, gone into the darkness like them. He didn’t have a life of his own for long periods of his life; the more clever he became, the more difficult it was to live “normally.” He was alone. He was like a rocky point of land. He didn’t keep track of the time of day. He didn’t keep track of anything more than his mystery. He tended to the mystery, tucked it in, watered it; when it came to the mystery he was a perfectionist, compulsive in his care. His documents lay in straight lines on his desk. At home, his clothes lay in messy piles on the way from the bedroom to the bathroom. He had neat civilian police clothes because he didn’t see any virtue in being a slob, but sure as hell, he was a slob beneath a lovely shell. He tried to cook real food but gave up in the middle of it. He opened a bottle of malt whiskey instead, when hardly anyone knew what malt whiskey was; that put Winter ahead of the game in the normal world, and he tried to drink the whiskey as slowly as possible and listen to the atonal jazz that no one else could stand. Whiskey and jazz, that was his method, when night fell, and so did everything else out there, and he sat in the half darkness with his plots, his mystery, and soon enough with a laptop that dispersed a cold light.
After a few years in the unit he realized that he had found himself because he had slowly lost what had been himself, and he thought that it was nice; it was liberation from normalcy.
• • •
Ellen Börge had been liberated from normalcy. Or had liberated herself. She had gone out to buy a magazine and never come back. It really had happened, reality imitated fiction: Ellen had really gone out to buy a magazine, a so-called women’s magazine. Winter had guessed at first that it was Femina because there was a small pile of Femina magazines on the coffee table, and no other magazines. Her husband, Christer, had no idea. Femina, huh? Well, I have no idea. She didn’t say.
She had never arrived at the ICA store nearby where she usually bought her magazines, and everything else, too. They were lucky in the sense that the two clerks who had been working that afternoon recognized Ellen Börge and they said they would probably have remembered if she had been there.
Christer Börge had waited for five hours before he called the police. First he was transferred to local district station three, as it had been called then, and after twenty-four hours without Ellen the investigative unit was called in; more specifically the security forces that worked with missing persons reports. Greenhorn Erik Winter had gotten the case; wet-behind-the-ears Winter. He suspected foul play because it was his job to suspect foul play; it was also his nature to suspect foul play, and he had sat in front of the coffee table with Femina on it and asked questions about the twenty-nine-year-old Ellen of her thirty-one-year-old husband. The trio were all about the same age, but Winter felt like an outsider; he hadn’t met Ellen, and Christer hadn’t rejoiced when Winter arrived. Christer had been nervous, but Winter didn’t understand what kind of nervousness it was. That kind of understanding of people required years of being an interrogator. It wasn’t something that could be taught at the police academy. All you could do was wait for years, or wait them out, ask your questions again and again, read faces, listen to the words and simultaneously try to understand their implications. Winter had known even then, at the beginning of time, in 1987, that scholars of literature talked about subtext, and that was a good word for police interrogations, too: there could be a gulf between what was said and what was meant.
“You waited five hours before you called the police,” he had said to Börge. This was no question.
“Yeah, so what?”
Börge had shifted on the sofa across from him. Winter had been sitting in an easy chair, some kind of white plush; he had thought that the furniture seemed too . . . adult for people of his same age, the whole home seemed . . . established, lived in, as though by a couple in late middle age, but here he didn’t trust his own judgment; his own apartment was two rooms with a bed and a table and some kind of easy chair, and in a direct interrogation he wouldn’t have been able to account for what kind of furniture he had, and what its purpose was.
But Börge would be able to account for everything in his home, a complete contents list down to the number of napkins in the second kitchen drawer from the top. Winter had been sure of it. Börge had looked like someone who had to have total control if the world were to retain its normalcy. His wife looked about the same in a photograph that stood on the coffee table, a conservative face, a hairstyle that didn’t take any chances, a gaze that was somewhere else. But Ellen had had beautiful features, neat and regular, in that photo. It was a face that could be nearly sensational in a different context, with a different hairstyle, and Winter had thought, while sitting in the chair, that perhaps Ellen Börge hadn’t been so happy with her husband. Too much control. Maybe children had been planned in their timetable, but not for a couple of years, when the moon was in the correct position, when the tide had gone out, when finances permitted it. Winter didn’t have any thoughts of children himself, but on the other hand he didn’t have a woman to share such thoughts with.
Maybe Ellen hadn’t been able to stand it.
Five hours. Then her husband had called the police. If Christer was who he seemed to be, he ought to have called immediately. Demanded his rights. Demanded a massive effort. Demanded his wife back.
Winter had wondered.
“Weren’t you worried? Five hours can be a long time when you’re waiting for someone.”
“Would you have done anything if I’d called earlier, huh?” Börge’s voice had suddenly become more clear, almost shrill. “Wouldn’t you just have said that we had to wait and see?”
“Have you called before?” Winter asked. “Has Ellen disappeared before?”
“Uh . . . no. I just mean that you have to wait. You know, that’s what you read. The police wait and see, right?”
“It depends,” said Winter, who was suddenly the one answering questions. This was difficult; interrogations were very difficult. “It’s impossible to generalize.”
“Sometimes . . . she would take a walk,” Börge said, though Winter hadn’t asked a follow-up question. “She would be gone for a few hours without saying anything. Like, ahead of time, I mean.”
“No, never. Two, maybe; three on rare occasions.”
“What do you mean why?”
Börge was sitting still on his sofa now, as though he had begun to calm down when he looked back on what had been.
“Why was she gone for hours without saying anything ahead of time?”
“I said a few.”
“Did you ask her?”
“What would I ask?” Börge stroked the plush, as though he were petting a dog, a cat. “She was just taking a walk, after all.”
“And this time she went out to buy a magazine. Maybe Femina.”
“If you say so.”
“That’s the only magazine here,” Winter said, grabbing the pile in front of him and reading the month of publication on the top issue. “You’re sure that she said that she was going to buy a magazine?”
“Did she subscribe to any others?”
“What? No . . . she used to . . . but now I guess it was . . . single copies or whatever it’s called.”
“When did she stop subscribing?”
He could check everything like that, but he wanted to ask anyway. They could be important questions. Often you didn’t know until afterward.
“Well . . .” Börge said, looking at the little pile on the table. “I don’t really remember. A few months ago, I think.”
“Does she read any other magazines or journals?”
“Well, we have the daily paper of course, GP. And other than that it’s just those.” He pointed at the pile that Winter was still holding in his hand. “You’re welcome to look in the closets, but I’ve only seen that one.”
“She had it already,” Winter said.
Winter held up the two top magazines.
“She had the August issue, and the September one.”
“September? But it’s not September yet.”
“They come out a bit before the new month starts, I would guess.” Winter read the cover again. “It says here: September 1987.”
“Maybe it wasn’t that magazine,” Börge said. “I mean, the one she talked about going out to buy.”
Winter didn’t say anything. He waited. He knew that it was good to wait sometimes. That was the hardest thing, the hardest part of the art of interrogation.
Thirty seconds went by. He could see the silence causing Börge to think he had said something that Winter didn’t like, or had become suspicious of, and that he ought to say something now that made the atmosphere around the coffee table a little better, a little lighter, maybe.
He suddenly got up and walked over to the bookcase, which mostly resembled a very large cabinet along the wall, a glass case, with space for china, knickknacks, books, a few photographs in frames. Winter had seen Ellen’s face.
Börge was still standing in front of the books, as though he were looking for a particular title. He turned around.
“We had argued a little bit.”
“Before . . . when she went out.”
“What were you arguing about?”
“Well . . . she wanted to have children but I thought it was early. Too early.”
Winter said nothing to the thirty-one-year-old in front of him, mostly because he himself didn’t have anything to say about children because “early” in his case was just the beginning, just a preface. A family of his own lay eons in the future. Not even his imagination could see over that hill.
“You were fighting about it?”
“Like I said. But it wasn’t so bad.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“It wasn’t really a fight. It was just that she was . . . talking about it.”
“And you didn’t want to talk about it?”
Börge didn’t answer.
“Had you argued about it before?”
“Yes . . .”
“Did these arguments end with her going out? Without saying when she would come back?”
Börge nodded. Winter wanted an answer in words. He repeated the question.
“Yes,” Börge answered.
“Is that the reason she went out this time?”
“Well . . . we weren’t really arguing. And, you know, she was going to go out and buy a magazine.” Börge’s eyes fell to the magazine that Winter had lifted from the pile, the magazine she was going to go buy but already owned.
“Was that always the reason that she left?” Winter followed Börge’s gaze. “Arguments about when you would have children?”
“Eh . . . I can’t remember,” Börge said. “But she always came back.” He looked straight at Winter now, sought his eyes. “She always came back.”
• • •
But this time she didn’t come back.
She never came back.
“I remember now,” Winter said. “She never came home. Ellen. Her name was Ellen. Ellen Börge.”
They were still standing at the window. The late August evening was as dark as in November. Winter thought of a magazine cover with “September” printed under the magazine’s name.
September came and went through the years, but Ellen Börge didn’t collect magazines in a pile anymore; not on that coffee table, anyway.
“I remember, too,” Ringmar said. He gave a weak smile in the glow from outside. “And I remember you. I think that was your first case, or one of the first.”
“First case, first failure.”
“In a long line,” Ringmar said.
“But all jokes aside,” Ringmar said, “that’s a missing-person case that we didn’t solve, but we never found out whether there was foul play behind it.”
“We haven’t even solved whether it was a crime that we would then solve,” Winter said.
“Does it mean something to you?” Ringmar said. “Something in particular? Her disappearance? Ellen’s?”
“I don’t know.” Winter suddenly felt damn tired, as though the years from then to now had come staggering in a single line and lay down on top of him, all at once. “But there was something about it . . . about Ellen . . . that made it hard to let go of.”
“It’s worse at first,” said Ringmar. “When you’re green.”
Winter stroked his chin. He felt and heard the rasp of his stubble. It had begun to turn gray a few years ago. It wasn’t his age. It was genetics, pure normalcy. He wasn’t that old yet.
“I’ve thought about it occasionally,” he continued. “Throughout the years. That there was something there. Something I could have done. Something I could have seen. It was there, in front of me. I should have seen it. If I had seen it I would have gotten farther.”
“Farther toward . . . Ellen.”
“You talk about it like it was a crime,” said Ringmar. “That she was the victim of a crime.”
Winter threw out his arms, toward Ringmar and the night.
“But we have a completely real and obvious crime in front of us,” Ringmar said.
“Mm-hmm.” Winter shook his head. He felt something rattling suddenly in there, a loose screw or something. “I suddenly feel tired. Now I can’t even remember how we got on the topic of Ellen Börge.”
“Hotel Revy,” Ringmar said. “She had also checked into the city’s coziest lodgings.”
“But Paula Ney never checked in,” said Winter.
“No,” Ringmar said. “And she never checked out either.”
Meet the Author
Åke Edwardson has worked as a journalist, a press officer for the United Nations, and a university lecturer at the University of Gothenburg, the second-largest city in Sweden, where his mysteries are set. He is one of Sweden’s bestselling authors, and his books featuring Detective Chief Inspector Erik Winter have been translated into more than twenty languages worldwide. He is a three-time winner of the Swedish Crime Writers’ Award for best crime novel.
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Room No. 10 is the seventh entry in Ake Edwardson's Inspector Winter series, but is a first read of this author for me. Erik Winter is a Chief Inspector in Gothenburg, Sweden. He is called to a bizarre death in a decrepit hotel - in Room No. Ten. It appears to be suicide by hanging, but why in the world is her hand painted white - and the note left just doesn't ring true for Winter. And he is disturbed by the setting - Room No. 10 was the first homicide that he investigated as a young policeman - and the case remains unsolved. Erik is a likable protagonist, thoughtful, quick thinking and determined. I also enjoyed the supporting cast of players - there is a real mix between various ages, talents and personalities. This is a group who has worked together on many cases. I didn't feel too far out of the loop on catching up with who was who at all. Room No. 10 is told in a past and present format, allowing us to see the young Winter as well. The crime is inventive and I really wanted to see if and what the connection between the two cases might be. But I found the road there indeterminately long and drawn out. The roundabout conversations and methods of investigation annoyed me. The same information and clues are dissected more than once. Perhaps it's because I prefer a little more action in my mysteries. Edwardson employs lots of description in his writing. But it's in short bursts of sentences. I found a lot of it extraneous and by page 320 was starting to skim. For example: "A cup of coffee and a Danish were comforting. They walked across the street and into the café. The line at the counter was long" The advance reader's edition was approximately 450 pages and honestly it was about 100 too long for this reader. The last few chapters did pick up the pace. It was an okay read for me, but not a stand out.
Femal Dragon. Deep Dark Black and Bright Blue. My eye color is Bright Neon Blue. Im caring,friendly,loving,loyal,kind,helpful,protective and spiritfree. My powers are Fire,Lava,Ice and Water. When it comes to battles i use my tail. When ever I use my tail spikes come out and ya you know. Im fast at flying. I hunt really well. Its hard to see me at night but you can see my bright eyes. When it comes to fights it turns into WW II again! If anyone or anybody is in my way i will like kill you. NO JOKE! and thats it!