The Viperby Hakan Ostlundh
"Another Scandinavian star has been born into the world of crime fiction. Don't miss out on Hakan Ostlundh!"
--Stephen Booth, author of The Devil's Edge
Published in nine countries worldwide, Håkan Östlundh is well on his way to becoming one of the new superstars of Scandinavian crime fiction. In this gripping and haunting novel, Arvid/p>/i>/p>
"Another Scandinavian star has been born into the world of crime fiction. Don't miss out on Hakan Ostlundh!"
--Stephen Booth, author of The Devil's Edge
Published in nine countries worldwide, Håkan Östlundh is well on his way to becoming one of the new superstars of Scandinavian crime fiction. In this gripping and haunting novel, Arvid, a ruthless business consultant for a major international company, returns home to Sweden after a lengthy assignment in Tokyo. Four days after his return, the maid discovers two dead bodies on the living room floor—a man and a woman. At first, police detective Fredrik Broman assumes the two bodies to be Arvid and his wife, but the male body is badly disfigured and could be anyone. Soon, Fredrik is knee-deep in case that is much more complex than he could ever have imagined.
Set on the island of Gotland, The Viper is a fabulous crime novel that explores the terrors lurking beneath small town life, where escaping one's past is impossible.
“An engrossing thriller [that] upholds the Scandinavian literary tradition of using crime to peek into deep-rooted social malaises.” Publishers Weekly
“Combining the viewpoints of police and local residents gives Ostlundh's first crime novel to appear in English an extra level of interest. This latest Swedish import is sure to please fans of Asa Larsson and Johan Theorin.” Booklist
“A future classic of crime fiction.” Stephen Booth, author of The Devil's Edge
“There is no question about the fact that the Swedes have captured the Nordic crime throne and Håkan Östlundh is definitely one of the most interesting authors in the genre... A classic crime story.” Helsingør Dagblad
“A classic crime novel that touches upon our time and the relationships between the people that our time creates.” Gotlands Tidningar
“Swedish crime writing at its best.” Ove Österman, UNT
“Exceptionally thrilling…Breath-taking reading.” Dagens Nyheter
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By Hakan Ostlundh
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2008 Håkan Östlundh
All rights reserved.
A bounding neon horse reflected in the dark glass facade opposite Arvid Traneus's apartment on the border between Roppongi and Akasaka in Tokyo's Minato district. Its precise gait was unclear and with each step it changed colors in a shower of stars. Its rounded babyish features bore little resemblance to a real horse. Missing was the muscle definition, the nervous gaze, and the awesome power that a live animal of that size possessed — a massive creature that could easily injure a human being without intending to.
A raven flew sluggishly between the skyscrapers, virtually indiscernible in the darkness. He had shuddered the first time he had heard that lingering shriek. In Tokyo it wasn't the seagulls that took over the city when the human population retired for the night, it was the ravens.
You got used to it.
Arvid Traneus turned his back on the October night outside the bedroom's panorama windows, the horse's never-ending gallop and the flickering lights of the city. He looked at Kass, the young woman who had just entered the room. She had tilted her head slightly and smiled sadly at him. Her black hair cascaded down over the shoulders of her red silk dress. She was holding a wineglass with both hands, in it the last of the Cheval Blanc from the bottle he had uncorked.
It was a final farewell.
The assignment had originally been intended as just a quick consulting job. As it turned out, he had ended up spending seven years traveling back and forth, and three more in the apartment; ten years in Tokyo altogether, the last two of them with Kass. And now it was time to return home. It was over. All of it. The job, the city, the woman.
He walked up to her and she met him halfway. He took the glass from her and set it down on the ledge in front of the window. He pulled her close to him and laid his hand on her golden-brown thigh protruding from the slit in her short dress. She pressed up against him.
"Kass," he mumbled into her hair, which was decorated with shiny little bows that matched the red of her dress.
She had brightened up his last two years in the city. Made it easier to breathe in the scattered shards of free time he had allowed himself between work and sleep.
He ran his hand up between her legs and spread her hairless vulva with his fingers. She let out a loud, shrill moan. Out of arousal he thought at first, but as he continued to move his fingers in the manner she usually liked, he noticed that she had gone rigid. She had turned cold as ice.
Then came another whimper, only pitched higher this time, and definitely not pleasure induced. She gasped the way one only does when one is truly frightened.
He looked at her. She stared out at the bounding manga horse.
She didn't answer.
"Kass, what is it?"
He waved his hand in front of her staring eyes.
"Kazu-mi!" he cried out. Like one might to a child about to put her hand on a hot stove.
She gave a start and looked at him with a furtive, anxious expression.
"What is it?" he asked again.
She shook her head and ran her fingers nervously through her hair so that the red bows came off and dropped to the floor.
"I don't know. Nothing. It's just silly ..."
Yet her eyes still sought their way back to the window and lost themselves in the distance, as if she saw something else completely than the neon horse's fitful prancing.
The animated horse had not been there six months ago. He had chosen this neighborhood because it lay far from the neon lights and nightlife. It was the government and diplomatic district, where interspersed among the office complexes was an occasional stack of high-rise apartments. Not a soul on the sidewalks after seven at night. But the city was constantly changing, above and below the surface. From his window he could see four new skyscrapers rising ever higher; the cranes at the very top had shut down for the night, visible only by their blinking red aircraft warning lights.
Constant flux, interminable growth. Neon flickered. Money changed hands. Sums that made the national budget of a small country like Sweden seem like chump change flowed daily through the stock exchanges and currency markets. Multinationals collaborated, competed, and annihilated one another. And that was where Arvid Traneus came into the picture. In the annihilation. Of corporations that is.
This assignment had, following a drawn-out struggle, ended badly for the competitor, much worse than had been intended. And the slaughter was actually pointless. His employer would only be able to fill up part of the void that was left behind. The rest would just fall into the hands of some other grateful competitor.
He stroked Kass's back.
"I'm fine," she said and kissed him on the neck. "Make love to me now," she whispered.
She lifted her arms above her head as he pulled off her dress with a rustle. She stood there naked in front of him, smelling of earth and rubber from the robust red wine, vanilla, and a hint of lemon from her perfume, and something else that was her own essence. Warm skin and loins.
Kass backed him up toward the foot of the bed, as she unfastened the stubborn black leather belt that he had bought just the week before. She unbuttoned his trousers and grabbed hold of his cock.
"He wants to come to Kass," she whispered, pursed her lips slightly, and let a thin string of saliva dribble down onto the head of his manhood and into her hand cupped underneath. In a quick, gentle motion, she rubbed in the saliva and he felt his legs turn to rubber.
Ten years. Had it been worth it?
For Arvid Traneus the answer was definitely yes. He had made a fortune for himself during these years. And yet that fortune was just a fraction of the money he had made for his employers, so their answer would likely be yes, too, if they would even be able to think of it in those terms. For them the contest was never over. All triumphs were temporary. They would continue to battle on for another ten years, and ten more after that.
He had been brought in to devise a strategy for increasing the company's market share by 5 percent. That was what they had agreed from the beginning. A tall order, but still specific and realistic. Then it got bigger. Their ambition grew and he was drawn in deeper and deeper, enticed by an offer he couldn't refuse; a breathtaking monthly salary and options the value of which, through his own efforts, would multiply many times over. If he succeeded.
He built up his own team. Flew back and forth to Tokyo, before finally ending up living there for the past few years.
Kass sank down onto her knees by the bed and looked at him with that wanton sideways glance that he could never quite decide whether she was feigning or not. But it didn't matter to him. If she was putting it on she was doing a good job of it, and she was doing it so that he would like what he saw, and that was worth a lot to him.
He had very nearly lost his best man because of Kass. She had belonged to Stephen first. That was how Arvid had met her. His gaze had been drawn to her constantly throughout that dinner. It can scarcely have escaped Stephen's notice. The following day he had gotten hold of her address and telephone number, and when he had called her up and suggested they meet she had answered yes at once.
Arvid was under no illusions about Kass and how she lived, but he knew that she had nothing to gain by leaving Stephen. She had done it simply because she had wanted to. Of that he was convinced.
Stephen had taken it hard. At first he had tried to reason with Arvid, get him to let her go. When Arvid refused, when he claimed on top of everything else that there was nothing he could do about it, that it had been Kass's decision, Stephen became furious. He threatened to quit, even went to the extreme of packing his things and flying back to England, though he never turned in any letter of resignation.
Arvid went so far as to appeal to Stephen's professionalism. Stephen sulked for a while, but of course he came back. He had far too much to gain to throw it all away just out of some vain demonstration of ... well, of what ... pride? He would only have made a fool of himself. She was just a kind of whore after all. Albeit not one you could pick up on any street corner.
She kissed his cock with gentle lips.
"Let me know," she whispered before disappearing between his legs.
She always said that. He smiled at the black head of hair bobbing back and forth down there. If she didn't know him well enough by now to be able to tell when he was about to come then that was her problem, he thought to himself.
It was actually Stephen who had come up with the idea that had made the whole thing possible, he and that blessed Norwegian computer whiz Olaisen. But it was Arvid who had been in charge when they had set the whole thing in motion. In the end it was neither marketing strategies nor product development that had brought Pricom to its knees, but an intricate scheme involving the company's shares that had been made possible by Olaisen hacking into their computer system. They had been able to peer right into the heart of their competitor. And then they had crushed him. It was a dirty trick of course, but business is always dirty, so there wasn't much more to say about it.
Kass's tongue fluttered like a butterfly of moist flesh. He ran his hands over her glistening black hair, brought his fingers together behind her neck, and held her head firmly in place. He stared out into the darkness and his pupils followed the movements of the neon horse involuntarily when he came.
After a prolonged silence, a sudden spasm that caused everything to relax, he let go and slipped out of her mouth. She slowly raised her left hand and drew the back of it across her lips and chin. Arvid Traneus looked at Kass and felt how he suddenly became filled with something heavy and black. He hadn't felt it so strongly for a long time. It almost suffocated him.
He didn't love her, but she was nice to be with, beautiful to look at, and pleasurable to make love to. She was delicate and petite, light as a feather. He could lift her up like a child. He had never heard her complain or whine or question anything. He had never seen her look at another man when they had been out together.
And yet ... He was under no illusions. She had left Stephen to be with him. And now their time together was at an end. It was possible that he could take her with him. Though she would never ask him to. In that case, it was up to him to invite her. He had considered it, but he had another life waiting for him, besides which, she was what she was after all. It would be a strange mixture of private life and business.
Their time together was over. He would leave and she would remain where she belonged. Alone. Free. Available. Who would she move on to after him? Someone he knew? Had she already made arrangements? Would she be slipping into another man's bed already tomorrow? Look at him with that longing gaze and say, "He wants to come to Kass." Suck his cock?
He met her gaze as she looked up at him and he realized in an instant that he didn't have the slightest inkling of what was going on in her head. Was that the look of sad farewell he saw in her dark eyes, or was it just an act, like when they narrowed with desire and arousal? Was she in fact indifferent? Did she hold him in contempt? Was she smiling inside though the corners of her mouth were angled slightly downward? Was she laughing to herself?
He surprised himself. He wasn't normally a brooder. Resolutely and very deliberately he pushed the thoughts of Kass out of his mind. All these questions were pointless. They were in the midst of a parting of the ways. She was no longer his concern, nor he hers.
It must have been a moment of sentimentality that had caught him unawares. It wasn't like him. He adjusted his clothes, buckled his uncooperative belt, and picked up the red silk dress from the floor.
She eyed him with a look of mild incredulity.
He reached out and helped her up. Her skin was warm against his fingers, but the warmth and fragrance meant nothing to him now. He held out the dress.
"You'd better go now," he said.
Her lower lip, pursed just a moment ago, drew in and tensed up. Her gaze still sought out his, questioningly, as if there was something left to say.
He handed her the dress and slowly walked over to the table in the other room to see if there was any wine left in the bottle. Behind him he heard her get dressed.CHAPTER 2
The ring of the telephone rattled loudly through the house. It always rang louder when it was him, cutting through time and space.
Kristina hurried through the living room, into the kitchen. Her feet were damp inside her socks. She was late. She hated to be late when he called. She wanted to be well prepared, composed, her breath steady, dry between her toes. Arvid was perceptive. Always detected the slightest ripple on the surface.
She pulled out one of the Jugendstil oak chairs from the dining room table, sat down, and took three deep, focused breaths without giving a single thought to the arm that would soon reach out toward the rattling telephone, trying to remember what Noriko had said during Wednesday's session. She admired that woman's enterprising spirit. To come all the way from Washington with her husband and settle down in Gotland of all places. Within just a few months she had set up a yoga center behind Japanese rice paper blinds in a building opposite the Statoil station in Havdhem.
Two years ago, Kristina would never have dreamed of doing yoga. It was far too alien to her. Perhaps it was the fact that Noriko was Japanese, at least by extraction, that had piqued her curiosity. Japan figured constantly in her life, after all, albeit from a great distance. Her life had become rigidly structured around the daily calls from Tokyo, and in some strange way it was as if the Wednesday yoga classes with Noriko helped to balance them out, loosen things up.
She lifted the receiver. It was 2 p.m. in Levide on Gotland, 10 p.m. in Tokyo.
"Hi, darling. How's everything? All right?"
Arvid's voice was deep and composed as usual, crystal clear even though it had sped across half the world to reach her.
"Just fine," she answered.
Her voice was clear and steady, but wasn't it pitched just a tad higher than usual?
"I'm coming home," he said. If he had picked up on her voice it certainly didn't show.
"I see, when?"
She already knew that he would answer tomorrow, or possibly the day after. He always preferred short notice. If it weren't for the fact that he always wanted to be picked up at the airport he might not have given her any notice at all.
"No, I mean, I'm coming home."
She sat there silently, adjusted her grip on the phone, didn't understand.
"For good. It's over. Ended. Just like that, from one day to the next. Pretty amazing, huh, after ten years?"
She still sat there silently, as darkness enveloped her. The second hand on the kitchen clock was preparing to spring forward another step. A faint electric impulse was on its way down a wire.
There it jumped!
How long could she remain silent? Dumbstruck, she must be allowed that much, right? Not for too long, though. And then of course it was not simply a question of answering, but also what she answered, and the tone of her voice. She would have needed a score to follow, and at least two weeks to prepare. But instead she sat there, like an idiot, struck by the proverbial bolt from the blue.
The second hand took another leap forward.
She was an idiot, not just like one. Of course this day was bound to come. She had known that all along. Nothing could have been more certain.
Three seconds. Her time was up.
Perhaps she wasn't an idiot after all. For a moment she was quite pleased with herself. His name, spoken a little lingeringly with a slight gasp. Of course the latter was caused mostly by her having completely lost control of her breathing, but it sounded good, as if joy had taken her breath away.
"I've been so busy here that it hadn't really sunk in till now ... It's going to be damn nice to come home. And the best thing about it is that from now on I'm completely my own man. I don't ever have to work another day in my life if I don't want to. We can live where we like, do as we please. I will never have to be away like this again, that I can promise you."
"That's just incredible."
Joy, joy ...
She had to struggle to understand what he said when he continued. It was as if the sound in the receiver faded out, just like the light in the room had done. When Kristina finally understood what time he had to be picked up in Visby and had hung up the phone, she didn't dare get up. If she just remained sitting there she would survive a little while longer, but if she got up she would fall straight through the floor, be swallowed up by a vast blackness, and disappear forever. Which perhaps wasn't such a bad alternative, when she came to think of it.
But she wanted to live.
Who the hell was she really? She had known this day was coming after all, and yet she had chosen not to see it.
She leaned forward with her hands clasped tightly in her lap and her eyes squeezed shut in order to block out the feelings that were flooding her breast and screaming catastrophe.
"I've behaved like a fucking ostrich," she whispered to herself.
Excerpted from The Viper by Hakan Ostlundh. Copyright © 2008 Håkan Östlundh. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
HAKAN ÖSTLUNDH grew up in Stockholm, Sweden, where he still lives today. He has worked as a journalist for Sweden's bestselling morning paper and spends summers on Gotland with his wife and three sons.
HAKAN ÖSTLUNDH grew up in Stockholm, Sweden, where he still lives today. He has worked as a journalist for Sweden's bestselling morning paper and spends summers on Gotland with his wife and three sons. He is the author of The Viper.
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Not all Scandinavian thrillers are created equal. This one has a strong premise but doesn't quite deliver in some areas, which are seemingly due to the translation. At times, I felt like I had been shaken awake by a rogue sentence, only to go back a few pages and attempt coherence. This was almost always the case when there was no segue for some sex scenes--one minute a woman is leaving her garage to get in her car and the next she is wondering if she should go back in an touch herself? The scenes skip for present to past without any notation, ie dates, chapter headings, etc., so this also made the story feel disjointed. But, a good story, and some twists, and character development that could lead to a promising series if some of the kinks are ironed out.(
The crime writing Swedes are alive and well in Hakan Ostlundh’s new book The Viper In this book, we are introduced to a family in crisis. The father Arvid Traneus is a hard and controlling man working and living in Tokyo while his estranged family waits for him on a tiny and isolated island in Sweden that they call home. Arvid's longtime job is finally done and as he bids his girlfriend goodbye and flies home for the last time from Tokyo to return to his family, He wonders what life will be like now. four days after he arrives home the maid comes to clean and discovers two dead & mutilated bodies on the living room floor. One is clearly Arvids long suffering wife and the other one is a man so badly mutilated it is too hard to tell who he is. So begins the police procedural as they try to unravel this heinous "who done it" Is it Arvid who has beaten his wife in the past and maybe this time went to far? Could it be a boyfriend of the long suffering wife and victim Kristina? Was the childhood of the now grown children Rickard & Elin so tortured maybe one of them snapped? Could it be the crazy old man who bicycles the loney roads day and night who sees all going in the tiny & isolated village? This book kept me burning the midnight oil until the very end when the killer is revealed. A great read from a writer I will be keeping my eyes on
A bit disjointed, but an ok reading
With a familiar plot and less than well-developed characters, all I wanted to do was finish the book.
He looked sideways. "Hi, Lilyrose."