It’s the dead of summer in the sleepy town of Växjö when twenty-year-old police cadet Linda Wallin is found lying facedown in her mother’s apartment, brutally murdered and raped. With no clear motive or suspect in sight, a series of bureaucratic mix-ups causes the National Crime Unit to send Bäckström and his team into the countryside to solve the case. The ever-irritable Bäckström leaves his beloved goldfish behind, checks into a local hotel, and begins to reconstruct the night of Linda’s murder. But with more than a few bottles in tow, and a constantly growling stomach to look after, things don’t go so well, and Bäckström has to rely on the help of his colleagues to solve the crime—no matter how angry that makes him.
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VÄXJÖ, FRIDAY MORNING, JULY 4
It was a neighbor who found Linda, and, all things considered, that was far better than her mother finding her. It also saved the police a great deal of time. Her mother hadn’t planned to come back from the country until Sunday evening, and she and her daughter were the only ones living in the apartment. The earlier the better, as far as the police were concerned, and especially regarding a murder investigation.
At five minutes past eight in the morning the alarm had reached the regional communication center of Växjö Police, and a patrol car that was in the vicinity had responded. Just three minutes later they had reported back. The first patrol was in place, the woman who had sounded the alarm was safely installed in the rear seat of the patrol car, and they were about to enter the building to check the situation. The patrol car really ought to have been parked in the garage of the police station at that time, seeing as that was when the night shift was replaced by the day shift and pretty much every police officer who was on duty was either in the shower or sitting in the staff room waiting for morning prayers and the handover meeting.
The duty officer himself had taken the call. The two younger colleagues who picked up the request had already managed to acquire something of a reputation in the local force. Sadly, not wholly positive, and, seeing as the duty officer himself was twice their age, had thirty years in the force, and reckoned that he spent far too much time up to his neck in elk shit, his first instinct had been to send reinforcements, whoever that might be at this time of day, but while he was considering this they had reported back once more. After just eight minutes, and also on his cell phone, so that none of what they had to say would be overheard by anyone listening in. It was now quarter past eight, and the first report from the officers at the crime scene lasted about a minute.
But most remarkably: For once, regardless of their age, experience, and reputation, they had done absolutely everything right. They had done everything that could have been expected of them, and one of them had even done more than that. Got himself a little gold star in his service record, and in a way that had previously been unheard of in the records of the Växjö Police Authority.
In the bedroom of the apartment they had found a dead woman. Everything indicated that she had been murdered and that this—how on earth they knew this, he didn’t know—had happened only a few hours before. But there were no signs of the perpetrator, apart from an open bedroom window at the back of the building, which at least gave some indication of how he had left the scene of the crime.
Unfortunately, there was a complication. The young officer whom the duty officer spoke to was convinced that he recognized the victim, and, if she was who he thought she was, it meant that the duty officer had met her on numerous occasions over the summer, and most recently when he left work the previous day.
“Not good, not good,” the duty officer muttered, apparently largely to himself. Then he had pulled out the little reminder list of what he should do if the worst happened to him at work. A laminated sheet of A4 with ten things to remember, and the thought-provoking heading “If the you-know-what hits the fan at work.” He used to put it under the blotter on his desk at the start of each shift, and it was almost four years since the last time he had any reason to take it out.
“Okay boys,” the duty officer said. “This is what we’re going to do . . .”
Then he too had done everything that could reasonably have been expected of him. But no more than that, because you don’t want that sort of excitement at his age.
The patrol car that had arrived at the crime scene first contained two young police officers from Växjö. Acting Police Inspector Gustaf von Essen, thirty years old and known in the force as the Count because of his name, even though he was always careful to point out that he was actually just “a perfectly ordinary baron.” The other officer in the car was his four-years-younger colleague, Police Constable Patrik Adolfsson, known as Adolf for reasons that were sadly not limited to his family name alone.
When they responded to the call, they were a couple kilometers from the alleged crime scene, on their way back to the police station. Because there was practically no traffic at all in the area at that time of the morning, Adolf had done a 180-degree turn, put his foot down and headed back the quickest way without lights or siren, while the Count kept a sharp eye out for any suspicious movement in the opposite direction.
Together they made up almost two hundred kilos of police officer, of prime Swedish stock. Mainly muscle and bone, with all their senses and motor functions in the best possible shape, taken as a whole, they were the dream response for any terrified citizen calling to say that he or she had three unknown hooligans out on the porch, trying to break the front door in.
When they pulled up in front of the building on Pär Lagerkvists väg where the situation was supposed to have arisen, an agitated middle-aged woman came running out onto the road toward them. She was waving her arms and stumbling over her words, and Adolf, who was first out of the car, had gently put his arm round her and ushered her into the backseat, and reassured her that “everything’s all right now.” And while the Count had taken up position at the rear of the building, weapon drawn, in case the culprit was still there and intended to make his escape that way, Adolf had quickly checked out the entrance to the property and then gone into the apartment. Easy enough, seeing as the front door was wide open.
This was the point where he won his gold star, before doing, for the very first time, all the other things that he had been taught to do at the Police Academy up in Stockholm. With his pistol drawn, he had looked through the rooms. Padding along the walls so as not to mess things up unnecessarily for their colleagues in forensics, or to present the perpetrator with an easy target if he was still there and was crazy enough to have a go. But the only person there was the victim. She was lying on the bed in the bedroom, motionless, beneath a bloodstained sheet that covered her head, torso, and half her thighs.
Adolf called to the Count through the open bedroom window that the coast was clear for him to check the stairwell, then holstered his pistol and pulled out the little digital camera he had under his left armpit. Then he quickly took three different pictures of the motionless covered body before he carefully folded back the part of the sheet covering her head to check if she was alive or already dead.
With his right index finger he had managed to locate her carotid artery, even though this was actually entirely unnecessary, considering the necktie around her neck and the look in her eyes. Then he had carefully felt her cheeks and temples, but, in contrast to the living women he had touched in the same way, her skin felt merely mute and stiff under his fingertips.
She looks pretty dead, even if she hasn’t been dead for long, he thought.
But he had also recognized her. Not as someone he had merely seen before, but as someone he was actually acquainted with, had even spoken to and fantasized about afterward. Strangest of all . . . although he had no intention of ever telling anyone about this. He had never felt so present as he did just then. Completely present, yet at the same time it was as if he were standing outside of what was happening and watching himself. As if this really wasn’t anything to do with him, still less with the woman lying dead in her bed, even though just a few hours before she must have been just as alive as he was.
The witness who had found the victim and called the police was interviewed for the first time at about ten o’clock in the morning by two detective inspectors who happened to be on duty. The interview was recorded and typed up the same day. Approximately twenty pages of print: Margareta Eriksson, fifty-five years old, widow, no children, lived on the top floor of the building where the victim and her mother lived.
The final point of the interview noted that the witness had been informed that she was being issued with a disclosure ban according to paragraph ten, chapter twenty-three of the Judicial Procedure Act. There was nothing, however, about her reaction to the fact that she—“on pain of punishment”—was not allowed to tell anyone about the contents of the interview. In itself this wasn’t so strange. It wasn’t the sort of thing that was usually noted in an interview, and besides, she had reacted just like most other people when they received the same notification: that she certainly wasn’t the sort of person who’d go about gossiping about that sort of thing.
The building, consisting of a basement, four floors, and an attic, was owned by a housing association of which the witness was also the chairperson. Two apartments on each of the lower three floors, and one double-size one at the top, where the witness lived. In total, seven properties, all owned by people in middle age or older, single people and couples with grown-up children who’d moved out. The majority of them were away on vacation at the time of the crime.
The apartment in which the murder took place was owned by the victim’s mother, and according to the witness the victim sometimes lived there too. Recently the witness had seen her fairly often, but the mother herself was on vacation, spending most of her time at her place in the country on Sirkön, an island twenty kilometers south of Växjö.
The apartment, four rooms and a kitchen, was on the ground floor when seen from the street and the entrance to the building, but because the building was built on a slope the apartment was actually one floor up at the back looking onto the yard, which itself led into a small area of woodland surrounded by detached houses and a few blocks of apartment buildings.
The witness was a dog owner, and, according to what she said during her interview, dogs had been her main interest for many years. In recent times she had had two, a Labrador and a spaniel, which she walked four times a day. At seven in the morning she usually took them on a long walk lasting at least an hour.
“I’m a morning person, I’ve never had any trouble getting up early. I hate lying around in the morning.”
When they got home she usually had breakfast and read the morning paper while the dogs got their “morning feed.” At twelve o’clock it was time again. Another walk with the dogs, again lasting about an hour, and when she returned she usually ate lunch while her two four-legged friends were rewarded with “a dried pig’s ear or something nice to chew on.”
At five o’clock she would go out again, but not so long this time. About half an hour, so she would have time to eat dinner and “give Peppe and Pigge their evening feed” in peace and quiet before it was time to switch on the evening news on television. That left “the evening pee” sometime between ten and twelve, depending on what the television had to offer.
A fixed routine that largely seemed to be dictated by her dogs. She usually spent the free hours in between either running various errands in town, meeting friends—“mostly women like me and other dog people, really”—or working from home in her apartment.
Her husband, who had died ten years ago, had been an accountant with his own business, and she had worked for him part-time. After he died she had carried on helping some of their old customers with their accounts. But her main source of income was the pension left by her husband.
“Ragnar was always careful with things like that, so I really don’t have anything to worry about.”
The interview had been conducted in her home. The officers who interviewed her could see with their own eyes that there was no reason to disbelieve her on that last point. Everything they could see indicated that Ragnar had been careful to provide for his wife after his death.
At eleven o’clock the previous evening, while she was busy with the so-called “evening pee,” she had seen the victim emerge from the front door and set off in the direction of the town center.
“It looked like she was going to a party, although I tend to think that most youngsters look like that now, no matter what time of day it is.”