Anna Fekete returns to the Balkan village of her birth for a relaxing summer holiday. But when her purse is stolen and the thief is found dead on the banks of the river, Anna is pulled into a murder case. Her investigation leads straight to her own family, to closely guarded secrets concealing a horrendous travesty of justice that threatens them all. As layer after layer of corruption, deceit and guilt are revealed, Anna is caught up in the refugee crisis spreading like wildfire across Europe. How long will it take before everything explodes? Chilling, taut and relevant, The Exiled is an electrifying thriller from one of Finland’s most celebrated crime writers.
About the Author
Kati Hiekkapelto is an award-winning Finnish author, punk singer, performance artist, and former special-needs teacher. She is currently setting up an asylum for artists in danger. She is the author of The Hummingbird and The Defenceless, both of which have been translated into seven languages. The Defenceless won the prize for the best Finnish Crime Novel of the Year 2014 and was one of the top 10 bestselling books in Finland across all genres in 2015. David Hackston translated The Dedalus Book of Finnish Fantasy and has been awarded the Finnish State Prize for Translation.
Read an Excerpt
By Kati Hiekkapelto, David Hackston
Orenda BooksCopyright © 2016 Kati Hiekkapelto
All rights reserved.
Droplets of blood on the light-green wallpaper, like overgrown poppies along the verge.
Here, where the hazy grey sky swallows the edges of the immense wheat fields, where you can sense the Tisza, the river flowing past, even when you can't see it. The river is always present, always on the move, arriving, leaving. It flows like a giant artery through the poisoned fields, where weeds, poppies, cornflowers and dandelions are stifled and beaten back, past this small town where life feels unchanged, where time seems to have stopped while the country around it changes name, fights wars, languishes on the precipice of economic collapse, harbours its war criminals, ashamed of itself but too proud to admit its own mistakes. That country contains dozens of identities, nationalities, minorities, majorities, languages. It has signed the UN Declaration of Human Rights but doesn't uphold its contents.
The river will come into blossom any day now. People are saying it will be the biggest flowering in living memory. Perhaps right now millions of mayfly larvae are beginning to hatch and dig their way out of the mud on the riverbank. Soon they will swarm above the river like a giant, beautiful cloud of flying flowers; they will mate, lay eggs and die. People gather along the riverbank to celebrate, many taking their boats out on the water, in among the insects, so they can feel the delicate beating of their wings and the touch of the insects' rubbery bodies on their skin. The flowering is a wondrous carnival of life and death, an event the town eagerly awaits and that people celebrate with great verve. Nothing like this happens anywhere else in the world – only at this bend in the river, at the centre of this town. As though the town was special, blessed.
Droplets of blood. They converge on the light-green wallpaper into a large, blackening pattern, a giant amoeba. The wall is around two-and-a-half metres high, five metres in length, and behind it is one of the house's two bedrooms. The wall is bare – no paintings, no mirrors. Only plain, light-green wallpaper, and now that pattern in the middle, the amoeba, the poppy field.
A moment earlier a figure cast a shadow as he sat down at the antique desk by the window. The desk was bare; it had just been cleared, its drawers emptied. From outside came the sound of footsteps, the happy laughter of children walking past, laughter that seemed out of place in the atmosphere of the room.
A road leads directly past this house. In this part of town all the houses are built like this, snuggly against one another and so close to the road that they form a wall along the narrow pavement. A cherry tree can be seen through the window. It stands on a small strip of grass between the road and the pavement, its leafy branches shading the house so well that the occupants rarely need to lower the blinds, though the afternoon sun shines mercilessly on this side of the building. The blinds in this window are drawn last of all, in a futile attempt to hold back the heat when the summer outside is so sweltering, so oppressive that it penetrates everything. The branches are heavy with cherries – dark-red, juicy globes, ripe and ready to be plucked. Will anyone pick them this summer, preserve them in syrup, organise the jars in rows on the shelves in the pantry behind the kitchen?
A moment longer after he sat down, then his head and body worked together. The sturdy barrel of the pistol was placed squarely beneath his jaw, at such an angle that the bullet would go right through his skull and not just injure his face, leaving him alive but in pain. The pistol was loaded, his hand wasn't trembling in the slightest, his body was steady and prepared. With one exception, his head always had perfect control over his hand and pistol.
A shot, and before that a single thought: hell is here. Right now.CHAPTER 2
THERE WAS A SMALL WINE FESTIVAL going on in the park outside the town hall. To Anna the word 'park' seemed a bit over the top for the green but rather underwhelming strip of land, bordered to the south by the town hall and to the east by the road running between Horgos and Törökkanizsa, which pared off a chunk of the town. At the northern end of the park was the main shopping boulevard, and to the west rose the beautiful belfry of the Orthodox cathedral. The area was barely a quarter of a hectare in size, nothing but a stretch of lawn shaded by the chestnut trees right in the centre of Kanizsa. In the summer people sat in the shade of the trees watching the passers-by, keeping an eye on their playing children and exchanging gossip. In the evenings the place was filled with youngsters. Fine, call it a park, thought Anna. After all, it even had the obligatory statues – busts of two local artists and a monument to commemorate the Second World War. Za slobodu, it read in Serbian. In the Name of Freedom. The park was as tenuous as the freedom that existed in this country. A semi-park. A semi-freedom. Anna wondered how she might translate those words into Hungarian. She couldn't think of anything. Word play worked better in Finnish, and in Finland the notion of freedom seemed to grow more absurd by the day.
The evening had grown dusky. Light bulbs dangling from the trees like strings of pearls lit the asphalted path running through the park. The path was lined with wine-tasting stalls, tables and chairs. People crowded around them, drinking and laughing. Acquaintances and half-acquaintances, and even some complete strangers, who must have been friends of Anna's mother, stopped as they saw Anna and greeted her with smacking kisses on both her cheeks. Anna could smell the wine and tobacco on their breath as they went through the list of compulsory questions, excited and apparently with genuine curiosity. How are you doing? When did you arrive? How long will you be staying? Did you fly into Budapest? How long is the flight? I'm sorry about your grandmother. She was a good woman. Oh, you didn't make it to the funeral? Your brother has been here for a while now. How is he getting on? And how is your mother keeping? You must come and visit one day, any time you like. Finally they whispered to Anna, almost apologetically, that last year's fair had attracted many more people. What a shame it's so quiet this year. It's started straight away, thought Anna: the apologising. Had people apologised like this back in Tito's day? Or had it only started after the war that led to the break-up of Yugoslavia? It seemed that a sense of inferiority had descended over Kanizsa like a veil, a layer of dust in an abandoned house. But the locals barely noticed it. Here, complaining about things and belittling themselves were an integral part of communication, and nobody thought of the effect this had on the atmosphere and on people's confidence and self-respect. People were slowly but surely giving up. Anna had sensed this in the past too.
Anna thought there were a surprising number of people at the fair. After the scorching daytime heat the evening was still warm, and a hint of approaching rain hung in the air. People weaved around one another and the atmosphere was almost jubilant. On a stage erected at one end of the path a band struck up and started playing covers of Hungarian hit songs; the music was so loud it could probably be heard on the other side of town. Inferiority complex or not, at least people here knew how to celebrate, how to live in the moment, and the following morning nobody, not even the grumpiest old codgers in town, would complain about being kept awake by the noise. They were all probably enjoying the party too, asking their grandchildren to bring them little tasters of the different wines.
In front of the stage a group of youngsters were slouching around, bottles of beer in their hands, and more people were arriving all the while. Anna felt tired. To tell the truth, she'd wanted to go to sleep a long time ago, or at least to withdraw into the peace and quiet of her bedroom. All the greetings, the shrieks of excitement, the kisses on the cheek and the questions about how she was doing had quickly got on her nerves. In Finland she forgot all about the inquisitiveness of the people of Kanizsa, so gushing it was almost overwhelming, and after the first few days of her holiday it always managed to exhaust her. She instantly started making comparisons in her mind: in Finland people do this and that instead. It annoyed her. It was as though she was constantly awarding each place plusses and minuses, as though this would help her decide where she belonged. As though she had to make a choice. But she didn't. Fate had made that decision for her long ago.
Anna had arrived in Kanizsa late in the afternoon. After a bad night's sleep she had set off ridiculously early from her one-bedroom rented apartment in Koivuharju, taken a cab to the airport, flown south to Helsinki and caught a connecting flight to Budapest. There she had jumped into a hire car – a white Fiat Punto with automatic gears and with such efficient air conditioning that she could still feel the chill in her shoulders – and driven a few hundred kilometres directly south. She crossed the border at Röszke, taking a deep breath once she arrived on the other side, where the Hungarian steppe, the puszta, stretched out on both sides of the road like the open sea. A few kilometres later she turned right at the intersection leading to Horgos, where the houses looked like they might fall down at any minute, and then to Magyarkanizsa, which the locals referred to simply as Kanizsa.
The transition was too quick. It was like this every time. When a plane shoots into the sky and hurtles through the air at hundreds of kilometres per hour, carrying people from one city and one country to another, the soul has no time to catch up. Its habit is to unwind itself slowly, at its own pace. Anna knew this perfectly well, but she never seemed able to protect herself against the shock; she always went straight to Kanizsa to visit friends as soon as she'd arrived. Instantly she became so agitated that she almost hated the place, regretted ever coming back and felt as though she was suffocating inside her own soulless body, as though it was the soul – the innermost being – that defined the extremities of our body and protected it from outside attacks. It was a strange feeling but one that would soon pass. She knew that too.
They sat down in front of a stall belonging to the Nagy-Sagmeister vineyard and bought three bottles of wine and one of mineral water. Anna was with friends she had known since they were at nursery school together: Tibor, Nóra, Erno and Véra. Réka hadn't joined them. She'd been feeling ill all day, and she and Anna had agreed to meet up tomorrow. Anna's mouth felt bone dry after the long journey, and she downed a large glass of water. Her friends handed her a glass of white wine – furmint – which the local vineyard had bottled the previous autumn. This stuff's fantastic, top notch, they assured her. You won't find anything better in Hungary either. This producer – a Kanizsa local – was set to bring Serbian wine culture to new heights, they proudly proclaimed. Anna sipped the wine. It was good. She watched the people walking past and noticed a man standing at another stall with a glass in his hand, looking over at her. For a moment Anna looked elsewhere and nodded at Tibor's stories as if she were actually listening to him, then she cautiously glanced back at the man. Yes. Now he was openly staring at her. Anna awkwardly looked down at her wine glass.
'Don't look now, but who is that man over there on the left? The one with the bespoke suit and the grey hair,' Anna asked Nóra.
Nóra peered over Anna's shoulder. The man was engaged in conversation with the owner of the wine stall.
'That's Remete Mihály. He sits on the local council. He's a big fish. Apparently he's going to run for parliament at the next election.'
Again the man looked over at Anna.
'He's staring at me,' said Anna and felt an uncomfortable tingling sensation in her back.
'Mihály likes younger women. It's an open secret round the town,' said Tibor and gave Anna a teasing nudge on the shoulder.
'He's old enough to be my father,' Anna scoffed.
The man paid for his wine and began walking towards their table.
'Damn it, he's coming this way,' Anna whispered.
'Jó estét kívánok, Remete Mihály vagyok.' The man stood smiling in front of Anna and held out his hand.
Anna shook his hand and introduced herself. The man had several thick golden rings on his fingers.
'I know who you are,' he said 'I knew your father well. He was a good man.'
Of course, thought Anna. Everybody had known her father. Back here she would always be her father's daughter. This defined her position in a society to which she no longer belonged, but to which she was eternally bound. Her grandfather, grandmother and great-grandfather were roots, and her mother and father the trunk from which her own branch grew. She could almost see that branch appearing like a speech bubble in a cartoon as the local man tried to place her in the right bough of the right tree in the arboretum called Kanizsa. A sense of relief flashed across their faces when they found the correct tree, the correct branch. Good. You're not an outsider. We know you. We know how to treat you.
How ludicrously wrong they were.
'Are you here on holiday?' asked Remete Mihály.
Anna repeated the same things again, answered the same questions, smiled and raised her wine glass when the man decided to make a toast to her father.
'Come and visit me some day,' he said. 'I could show you a few photographs of your father from when we were young. You might be surprised. We were a pair of tearaways.' At that he gave a hollow chuckle, bade the group good evening and went to the next stall to get another glass of wine.
'Nice guy,' said Erno. 'I voted for him last time.'
Anna could hear Erno beginning to slur his words. Nóra wanted to take the obligatory selfie with Anna and their glasses of wine and upload it to Facebook straight away. Anna put on a smile and posed for the photo: cheek-to-cheek with Nóra, cheese; and with our glasses raised, cheese; now with the guys. The prodigal daughter has returned, Nóra typed and tagged them in the photograph. She giggled at her own inventiveness and wondered out loud why Anna still wasn't on Facebook. Anna explained – for the umpteenth time – that she simply didn't want to. Eventually she said she might consider it in order to keep in closer contact with her old friends, but only because Nóra's effusive Facebook sermon started to make her feel pressured.
The guys' conversation had shifted to local politics, a subject about which they both seemed to have trenchant views, while the women chatted about their work and what they had cooked for dinner earlier that day, yesterday, last week. Anna tried to engage in her friends' conversations but couldn't get a grip on the rhythms, couldn't deploy appropriate words at the appropriate moment, and didn't really know what to say about either subject. After a while she gave up and listened to the buzz of chatter, punctuated with bursts of laughter. Before long she'd given up on that too. She drifted into her own thoughts, sensed the dizzying smell of the hársfa in her nostrils, closed her eyes for a moment and slowly began to relax. Things will be fine, she thought. I can soon go to bed, they'll understand I'm tired. Tomorrow this will all feel much nicer, much cosier, and I'll see Réka for the first time in ages. We can go for a walk across the járás.
Just then Anna felt a violent shove at her back. She was buffeted against the table – so hard that Tibor's wine glass toppled over. Golden-yellow furmint trickled over the edge of the table on to the ground and splashed on Anna's trousers. Tibor leapt to his feet and shouted something, and it was then that Anna noticed her handbag had disappeared from the chair next to her.
'My handbag!' she shouted. 'Someone's taken my handbag!'
Tibor and Erno dashed into the crowd of people.
'Stop! Thief!' Tibor hollered. It sounded almost like a joke, like something straight out of a cartoon strip.
Anna rushed after them. She saw someone running. The figure disappeared into the crowd, reappearing a moment later at the edge of the park. The situation had erupted so unexpectedly that nobody had time to react. Anna barged past people standing in her way, and when she eventually reached the pathway, she caught a glimpse of two people running in different directions: a man, and a little girl in a red skirt, who swiftly slipped away among the high-rise apartment blocks rising up behind the Orthodox cathedral. The man was running towards the school. Each of them carried a bag.
Excerpted from The Exiled by Kati Hiekkapelto, David Hackston. Copyright © 2016 Kati Hiekkapelto. Excerpted by permission of Orenda Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
NOVEMBER 24th, 1988,
About the Author,
About the Translator,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Another good Scandi-noir that is engaging and interesting A Finnish thriller, this deals with a police officer going to the Serbian-Hungarian border to see her family and have a holiday. There her handbag is stolen and this leads to a murder case which she cannot resist investigating This is a story of characters as well as hard-boiled detective work and it works well. It's an easy read and drags the reader in to the plot quickly and efficiently The book is engaging and well worth a read, only bleak regarding the weather and the cold. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.