Read an Excerpt
NOBODY SAW HIM FALL through the dense November darkness.
With a dull, heavy thud he hit the rain-wet pavement. Even though
it was still rush hour, there were few people on the street. The pedestrians
huddled beneath umbrellas turned inside out and scrunched their
chins into turned-up collars for a little protection from the icy, whipping
rain. Everyone who could was driving a car or jammed into the
steaming warmth aboard a bus or streetcar.
An elderly woman pulling a stubborn, soaking-wet dachshund on
a leash stood closest. The howls that she and the dog uttered announced
to those people in the vicinity that something serious had happened.
Hurrying pedestrians slowed their pace. Curiosity got the upper
hand, and they were drawn toward the site of the accident.
A white Mercedes was carelessly parked by the curb. A man in a
light-colored overcoat had just rushed around the car and opened the
door on the passenger’s side when the lady with the dachshund started
to scream. The man turned quickly, squinted through the rain, and
caught sight of the heap thirty meters away. He kept his grip on the
open car door, slowly tilted his head back, and looked up at the top
floor of the imposing apartment building. A faint moaning sound rose
from his throat, but he remained catatonically still.
Without putting on her coat, the small woman in the passenger’s
seat jumped nimbly out of the car and ran over to the motionless figure
on the ground. Her slenderness was emphasized by the stylish
Chanel dress she was wearing. She had mastered to perfection the art
of running in high heels. She elbowed her way through the crowd frenetically
and reached the inner circle.
THE PATROL CAR WAS the first to arrive on the scene. The ambulance
came a scant five minutes later. As far as the ambulance medics
could tell, there wasn’t much for them to do. The two police officers
attempted to hold back the sensation-hungry spectators who suddenly
were stoic enough to defy both wind and rain. One of the officers got
into the car and called for backup.
“Send the crime scene team to the corner of Aschebergsgatan and
Molinsgatan. A guy jumped from the fifth floor. Looks like it’s that bigtime
businessman, Knäck-something-or-other. His wife and son are
here, in shock. We need another ambulance for them. Oh, I see . . .
DE T E C T I V E SUPERINTENDENT Sven Andersson had just
reached his old Volvo 240 and was putting his key in the lock when
he heard a familiar female voice shouting, “Sven, wait! Case in
Annoyed, he turned to her and sighed. “What is it now?”
The detective inspector’s voice revealed a slight hint of titillation
when she said, “Richard von Knecht jumped off his balcony!”
“Richard von Knecht! The Richard von Knecht?”
“Yes. It sounds unbelievable. Was there a stock market crash or
“Hop in the car. Did you get an address?”
THE RAIN was pouring down, and the superintendent had to put his
windshield wipers on high to be able to see out. Göteborg was really
living up to its nickname of “Soaking-borg.” The week before there
had been total winter chaos with half a meter of snow; the whole city
had been paralyzed for several days. The result would undoubtedly be
a high birth rate the next August. Now it was a few degrees above freezing
with not a snowflake to be seen.
DETECTIVE INSPECTOR HUSS 3
Detective Inspector Irene Huss phoned her teenage daughters and
told them that she’d be late. They were used to it by now, after her many
years with the Crime Police. They promised to take the dog for a walk
and feed him, and to let their father know. Krister was no doubt used
to it, too. As was usual, he would make a good dinner for his daughters.
Everything had been organized to run smoothly in the family, even
without her help.
She must have sighed audibly, because Superintendent Andersson
turned to her and asked, “Is something bothering you?”
“No, nothing. It’s depressing weather. Depressing, with scattered suicides.
The superintendent nodded in agreement and stared gloomily at the
black rain being flung against the windshield by the gusty wind. He
broke the silence and asked, “How could Dispatch be so sure that it
was really Richard von Knecht who jumped?”
“According to the officer on duty, the wife and son were down on
the street. Apparently, it was the son who called the police.”
“Do you know what floor he fell from?”
“No, but it seems it was high enough.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes. At last the superintendent
cleared his throat and asked, “Do you know anything about Richard
“What most people know. Aristocratic family, and wealthy.
Talented businessman, stock market speculator, and one of Göteborg’s
biggest celebrities. According to Aftonbladet’s financial section he’s a
business genius, but my husband says he’s just had incredible luck.”
“Is Krister an expert on business and the stock market now, too?”
“No. Although he does own twenty shares of Trygg Hansa, which
he received as a bonus when they reorganized a few years back. He’s
still the chef at Glady’s Corner.”
“That’s supposed to be a great place. Very trendy, I hear.”
Through the slapping of the windshield wipers they could now see
the flashing blue lights of the emergency vehicles. The crime team was
there and had blocked off a large area. The site of the body’s impact
was illuminated by a soft light streaming from the glass in the front
entrance of an exclusive menswear store. The door was set into the corner
of the building’s granite foundation. Superintendent Andersson had
a vague memory that there had been a pharmacy on this spot when
he was a boy. But he wasn’t quite sure, since he had grown up in
4 Helene Tursten
Masthugget, the neighborhood that was torn down during “urban
renewal” in the sixties.
Above the door the corner extended into an oriel. There was an oriel
on the corner of each floor, whose bay windows faced in three directions,
except for the top floor, which sported a balcony crowned by a
turreted roof. It was from there that Richard von Knecht had plunged
to the street. Superintendent Andersson let his glance pass over the
remains, but he quickly looked away. Inspector Huss also shuddered
when she saw what von Knecht looked like. It was not a pretty way
to die, she thought. One of the crime scene team came over to them.
“The medical examiner will be here any minute.”
“Do you know which one is coming?” asked the superintendent.
A shrug was the reply. With Inspector Huss in his wake, Superintendent
Andersson walked over to the parked patrol car. He bent
down to the officer in the driver’s seat.
“Hi, Superintendent Sven Andersson from Homicide.”
“Hans Stefansson from PO-One. So they’ve already called in you
“Yes, it’s unusually quick. We were contacted barely fifteen minutes
afterward, which would mean that he jumped at five forty-five P.M. Is
“No, we were the first on the scene, at five thirty-five on the dot.
He must have floated on down max five minutes earlier. My partner
and I were on Korsvägen when the call came in. I would think the correct
time of impact would be five-thirty.”
Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Medical
Examiner Yvonne Stridner. She was a professor of forensic medicine
and undeniably one of the country’s most talented pathologists. But
Superintendent Andersson had a hard time working with her because
Professor Stridner was a woman who demonstrated her expertise gladly
and saw no reason to hide her light under a bushel. Inspector Huss herself
had been involved in several cases in which the hypotheses of the
police were turned completely upside down by Yvonne Stridner’s definite
forensic opinions. And so far she had always been right. But that
wasn’t it as much as the fact that she was authoritarian and pedantic
that made it difficult for Superintendent Andersson to accept her. Huss
had a strong hunch that, deep down, the superintendent did not regard
forensic medicine as a proper job for a woman.
The white Ford Escort with MEDICAL EXAMINER painted on both front
doors had been parked at the outer perimeter of the blocked-off area.
DETECTIVE INSPECTOR HUSS 5
Out sailed the professor of forensic medicine. Even those who had no
idea of her profession stood aside in deference to her commanding presence.
Her flaming red hair was exquisitely set off by her soft mustardcolored
woolen coat. She strode up to the body, took off her coat, and
asked an officer to hold it. Underneath she was wearing a clean white
lab coat. She opened the little bag she was carrying, pulled on a pair
of latex gloves, and squatted down next to von Knecht’s remains. The
crime scene technicians had just rigged up a floodlight, giving her a
better view. She hadn’t cast a single glance around her. Professor
Stridner was wearing a pair of plastic protectors over her expensive
leather shoes. There was a good deal of blood around the body, mixed
with a lot of other material and diluted with rainwater. Slushy.
In order to feel that she was being of some use, Inspector Huss decided
to start questioning the police officers present. The commander of the
unit, Håkan Lund, she knew well. Fifteen years earlier they had both
been rookies in what was then the third precinct, today Polisområde
1, Göteborg’s downtown area. Lund wasn’t much taller than she was—
five-nine at most. But his waistline would soon be approaching his
height if he didn’t watch out.
The crime team had received their instructions. Håkan Lund turned
to Irene Huss and said easily, “At your service, Huss! Is Violent Crimes
already on site?”
“Hi, how are you doing? Yes, we were called in early this time. When
did you get here?”
“We got the call from Dispatch just after five-thirty. We were inside
the station but left right away. ‘Top priority! Richard von Knecht is
lying dead at the corner of Molinsgatan and Aschebergsgatan!’”
“How did it look here?”
“Chaos! The vultures had gathered. We almost couldn’t get through
the crowd. But we pushed and shoved and got them driven back and
set up barriers. We cordoned off a large area, as you can see. A few people
did try to get under the crime scene tape, but I yelled right in their
Inspector Huss could imagine the scene vividly. Quickly she went
on to ask, “Who identified Richard von Knecht?”
“His wife and son. When we got through the crowd a woman covered
in blood was standing here wailing. Some guy was trying to prop
her up. That was Fru von Knecht and her son. From what I understood,
they happened to be right here on the street when he fell,” said Lund
6 Helene Tursten
“Where are they now?”
“The ambulance took them off to Sahlgren Hospital. But you won’t
be able to talk to her for a couple of days, and the son was chalk white
in the face. He even threw up before they got into the ambulance.”
Lund looked serious, but suddenly brightened up and exclaimed,
“Hey, I know someone you’ll be interested in meeting. Come on!”
Irene followed him over toward the crime team’s van. With a histrionic
gesture he opened up one of the side doors and said, “This is Fru
Eva Karlsson. Fru Karlsson, this is Detective Inspector Irene Huss.”
He turned to the little old woman in the light-gray trench coat, who
nodded mutely in greeting. On her knees sat a brown dachshund. It
clearly did not suffer from muteness. Over the dog’s frantic yapping Irene
could hear Lund saying, “This is the closest witness we have. She was
standing about seven meters from the point of impact.”
Irene turned to the woman. A trembling, thin white hand was held
out toward her. Cautiously, she took the fragile, ice-cold hand in hers.
In a soothing tone of voice she began, “Fru Karlsson, I’d like to hear
a little about the tragic event you were witness to this evening—”
“Frightful! I’m almost seventy-seven years old, and this is the most
appalling thing that has ever happened to me in my whole life! To
watch a human being smashed right at my feet! He almost fell right
on top of Snoopy!”
A thin white finger pointed accusingly at the remains of Richard
von Knecht. Irene gave up at once. It would be best to drive the old
lady home and try to interview her later.
Over by the body, Stridner had begun packing up her things. With
a practiced motion the professor tore off the rubber gloves, took off her
lab coat, and stuffed all of it into her bag. She had already removed
the plastic protectors from her feet. Without looking at him, Stridner
made a queenly gesture with her arm to the young police sergeant, who
had been patiently holding her coat for more than a quarter of an hour.
She seemed only now to notice all the people standing around her. She
called out, “Is there anyone from Violent Crimes here?”
Superintendent Andersson slumped, sighed, and shambled over to her.
“All right, Andersson. Come and look. Don’t step in the blood,” said
Inspector Huss stole after her superintendent. Stridner had taken a
pen from the outside pocket of her bag. She pulled briskly on one end
and produced a meter-long lecture pointer. It was perfectly in character
for Yvonne Stridner to go around with a pointer in her bag. She
DETECTIVE INSPECTOR HUSS 7
said urgently, “Look there at the top of the right hand. I’ve turned his
hand forward so that the light falls on it. Look!”
She gestured with her slender pointer. The two detectives looked.
Running across the entire back of the hand was a deep groove. It wasn’t
as incised as a knife wound, but it had clearly been caused by something
Andersson ventured to ask, “Couldn’t he have gotten that from the
“No. Too distinct. The wound was inflicted by an instrument or
weapon. Since I happen to know . . . knew . . . von Knecht, this death
affects me personally. I’m actually supposed to be teaching graduate students
all morning tomorrow, but I’ll see to the autopsy myself. I’ll start
by eight at the latest and will let you know after eleven.”
“Isn’t there a chance you could take a look at him tonight?” Superintendent
Andersson gazed at the professor without much hope. She
fluffed her red tresses with her fingertips. Her hairdo had been thoroughly
soaked while she was doing her preliminary investigation. “Not
necessary, Andersson,” she replied curtly. “It’s almost certain that this
is a homicide.”
Irene Huss stared incredulously at the pathologist. Rage began to
rise inside her: being condescended to stimulates the release of adrenaline
in most people. She interrupted the conversation acerbically.
“Wait just a minute! What are you basing this on? And how did you
know von Knecht?”
The pathologist gave her a surprised look, as if only now noticing
that another person was present. Sven Andersson muttered Irene Huss’s
name and title in explanation. Before Professor Stridner managed to
reply, some ambulance men came over and asked whether it was all
right to take the body to Pathology. The ME nodded. She gestured
toward the main entry.
“We’ll wait over there so we won’t be in the way. And we can get
out of the rain.”
In a troop they walked over to the building entrance, a solid door
with beautiful incised glass in the top half. There was no list of names
of the people who lived in the building, only a coded intercom system.
You had to know the proper code to get hold of any of the residents.
Yvonne Stridner came straight to the point.
“We weren’t close friends, von Knecht and I. He did some sailing
with my husband. My ex-husband, to be more precise. My present husband
doesn’t know the von Knecht family at all.”
8 Helene Tursten
So the frosty medical examiner was married, and for a second time.
Irene’s ire was replaced by astonishment.
Oblivious to the inspector’s surprise, the professor continued.
“It must be fifteen years since I last saw them. But I’m convinced
that Richard never ever would jump from a balcony twenty-five meters
up! Even if he wanted to commit suicide. He was terrified of heights,
you see. When he was out sailing, if a sheet or shroud starting getting
tangled on the mast, he never wanted to climb up and fix it.”
“How did your ex-husband know Richard von Knecht?”
Again it was Irene Huss who asked. Yvonne Stridner gave her a sharp
look but nodded in comprehension of the reason the question had been
“They belonged to the same crowd during their high school days.
They stuck together through thick and thin over the years. Over time,
various girlfriends and wives joined the group. We were invited to the
spring bonfire celebration and the New Year’s party held every year.
Otherwise we girls stayed pretty much on the sidelines. It was like a
men’s club, or a fraternal lodge.”
“How many years did you socialize with the von Knechts?”
“Tore and I were married barely four years. I met them probably ten
times. As I said, this was fifteen years ago. After our divorce I lost contact
with the von Knecht circle.”
Irene could see that the professor was beginning to glance at her elegant
wristwatch and knew that she had to hurry and get to the last
important question. Quickly she asked, “Who was included in this men’s
Now Yvonne Stridner looked annoyed. Maybe she thought she had
been too communicative.
“They were men who are quite prominent today,” she said brusquely.
Then she thought for a moment and her expression brightened. “Let’s
do this. I’ll make a list of all the men in the group. You’ll have it tomorrow
with the preliminary autopsy report.”
She hurried off toward the white Ford Escort. Irene watched her go
and said, “She’s actually quite human.”
Andersson snorted. “Human, her? She’s got the emotional life of a
Inspector Huss smiled, concluding once again that the superintendent
didn’t forgive or forget easily.
“How are we going to get into the building then? This is a real Fort
Knox if you don’t have the code or the keys,” she noted.
DETECTIVE INSPECTOR HUSS 9
Superintendent Andersson didn’t seem to be listening; for a long
while he stood, lost in thought. Finally he took a deep breath and said,
“It’s going to take some time before the superintendent at headquarters
gets hold of the prosecutor and gets his permission for a search warrant.
In the meantime I’ll just have to stay here and wait for the warrant
and a locksmith. HQ will also have to track down the phone number
of someone in this building who can let us in. Maybe you could drive
up to Sahlgren Hospital and check on how the wife and son are doing.
My first thought was to borrow the key from the wife so we don’t have
to damage their lovely front door.”
A weary and bitter undertone revealed that Andersson was more
affected by the events than he would admit.
“Okay, I’ll run up to emergency. The car keys, please,” she said.
Irene reached out her hand and took the keys, still warm from his
pocket. She walked off toward the old Volvo.
AS USUAL, finding a parking place was hopeless, even though
evening visiting hours at the hospital were almost over. Huss showed
her police ID to the guard and was allowed to drive in. That didn’t
always happen when the police showed up in plainclothes and
didn’t have someone in the car who needed patching up.
Since it was a normal Tuesday evening and still relatively early, it
was quiet in the big emergency room. Irene went up to the nurses’
counter and saw a blond male nurse sitting there, talking on the telephone.
They had met several times before in the line of duty. He waved
cheerfully in acknowledgment and signaled that he’d be off the phone
Irene looked around. Right outside the counter was an elderly man
on a gurney. His face was a horrible shade of gray; she could hardly see
his lips in that pale face. He lay there with his eyes closed and didn’t
seem to be conscious of his surroundings. On a chair next to him sat
a short, plump woman patting his arm unceasingly. She was sniffling
quietly but didn’t speak to him. Over by the waiting room a youth sat
with a wad of bloody paper towels wrapped around his hand. An older
gentleman whom Irene recognized from the “A-team” bench in
Brunnsparken lay snoring loudly on a gurney. He didn’t seem to be in
such bad shape because the blood around the gash on his forehead had
already started to congeal. A young woman sat stiffly on her chair staring
into space. Except for the old man’s snoring it was almost peaceful
in the ER.
10 Helene Tursten
Nurse Roland finished his phone call and waved Huss over from the
corridor with a blithe “Hi there, Irene! Long time no see! I bet I can
guess why you’re here.”
“Hi! Have you seen Fru von Knecht and her son?”
“I sure have. The medics came in and brought me out to the ambulance.
They had a feeling that it was probably best to take her straight
to Psych. And in the condition she was in, I agreed with them.”
“How did the son look?”
“He just sat there staring into space. Of course he’s had a great shock
too. Would you like a quick cup of coffee before you dash off?”
Roland gestured invitingly toward the employees’ lounge. Irene could
feel her body longing for a cup of coffee but declined. Time was passing.
She started to walk toward the exit as an odd figure came through
the double doors. He was tall and incredibly skinny. His rat-colored
hair was thin and straggled down the back of his leather jacket. On
his feet he wore a pair of indescribably dirty and ragged jogging shoes,
and only his jeans could compete with them in filthiness. His thighlength
leather jacket was of a sixties design and had probably been
bought at the Salvation Army or picked out of a Dumpster after someone
had cleaned out an attic. But it wasn’t his slovenly clothing, which
had seen a few too many winters, that made Irene gape.
His skin was so yellow that it was almost greenish. The guy had jaundice
of the most fulminating kind. Without a word the yellow-skinned
man ripped off his jacket. The front of his T-shirt was drenched with
blood. His stony pupils, surrounded by the sulfur-yellow whites of his
eyes, stared straight at the inspector. He grabbed hold of the bottom
of his T-shirt and pulled it up.
Then Irene yelled, “Roland! Hurry! Roland!”
Nurse Roland stuck his head out the door of the nurses’ station. After
more than ten years on the job in the ER, he had no problem evaluating
the situation instantly.
“Damn, that’s a loop of intestine hanging out his belly!”
He dashed back into the station. Irene heard him yell on the intercom,
“. . . abdomen slashed open. He’s a walking case of HIV and
He bolted like a shot out the door. On the way he swept on a yellow
protective coat, plastic gloves, and a pair of safety glasses. Just as
he reached the stabbing victim, the man’s eyes turned upward and rolled
into his skull as he collapsed onto the floor.
DETECTIVE INSPECTOR HUSS 11
Down the corridor quick steps were heard approaching. The emergency
personnel walked as fast as they could while trying to pull on
some protective gear.
With a careful evasive maneuver the inspector slunk out into the
black November damp. Now it felt good to be outside in the cold. The
wind had let up and the rain hung like an icy fog in the air. She went
over to her car and drove through the hospital grounds.