One morning before school, two children find the naked bodies of five men hanging from the gym ceiling. The case leads detective Konrad Simonsen and his murder squad to the school janitor, who may know more about the killings than he is telling. Soon, Simonsen realizes that each of the five murdered men had a dark and terrible secret in common. And when Simonsen's own daughter is targeted, he must race to find the culprit before his whole world is destroyed.
Published in twenty countries around the world, with more than 150,000 copies sold in Denmark alone, this book introduces a brother and sister duo who have taken the thriller world by storm. Fast-paced, suspenseful, and brilliantly written, The Hanging is a stunning crime novel from Lotte and Soren Hammer, two Danish authors whose international fame is exploding.
About the Author
LOTTE AND SOREN HAMMER are siblings. The Hanging is the first in a series following Detective Konrad Simonsen and his team from the murder squad. They live in Frederiksværk, Denmark.
LOTTE AND SOREN HAMMER are siblings. A Price for Everything is the second book in a series following Detective Konrad Simonsen and his team. Their first book, The Hanging, was published in English in 2013. The writing pair have a huge following throughout Europe.
Read an Excerpt
By Lotte Hammer Jakobson, Søren Hammer Jakobson
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2012 Lotte Hammer Jakobson and Søren Hammer Jakobson
All rights reserved.
Monday morning fog rolled in over the land in white woolly waves. The two children could hardly see a meter ahead of them as they crossed onto the school grounds. They had to find their way from memory and soon their steps became hesitant and searching. The boy was slightly behind the girl, his school bag in his arms. All of a sudden he stopped.
"Don't go on without me."
The girl stopped as well. The fog particles condensed in her hair, and she wiped the droplets from her brow as she patiently waited for her little brother, who was struggling to wrench his bag onto his back. He had spoken Turkish, which he rarely did, and never to her; now he was occupied with the straps and pulling harder on them, but it didn't help. When he was finally done, he grabbed her hand. She looked around to see if she could spy the other end of the field through the mist.
She said, "Now see what you've done."
"What have I done?"
He tightened his grip and sounded small.
"Nothing. You don't understand."
She picked a direction at random and took a few blind steps before she stopped short again. The boy pressed up against her.
"Have we gone astray?"
"It was light at Mother's."
"In a little while it'll be light here too."
"What does it mean, astray?"
She didn't answer him, and tried to convince herself that there was nothing to be afraid of, that the school grounds weren't particularly large, that they should just keep going.
"We aren't allowed to go off with strangers. No matter what, we can't go off with strangers. Isn't that right?"
She could hear that he was on the verge of tears and she pulled him along behind her in a series of uncertain steps, until she suddenly saw a slight glow diagonally in front of her and steered toward it.
Shortly afterward they were in the corridor in front of the gymnasium. The girl was sitting on a bench, reading, and her brother came running with a ball in his arms.
"Do you want to play ball with me? You're so good at it."
"Have you hung your clothes up properly and set your bag down in its place?"
He nodded, wide-eyed, the embodiment of sincerity.
"Come on, go and do it."
He lumbered off without objection, but was soon back and repeated his desire to play.
"I have something I have to read first. You start and I'll be there in a bit."
He glanced skeptically at her book. It was thick.
"Promise you'll come soon?"
"As soon as I've finished this chapter. Go in and play on your own. It won't be long."
He ran into the gym and soon she heard the sounds of a bouncing ball. She kept reading. From time to time she closed her eyes and imagined she was a part of the story.
The boy interrupted her.
"There isn't room to play," he called out.
"Because some men are hanging up in here."
"So go around them."
Suddenly he was in front of her. She hadn't heard him approach.
"I don't like the men."
The girl sniffed the air a couple of times.
"Have you farted?"
"No, but I don't like the dead men. They've been cut up."
She got up angrily and walked over to the doorway to the gymnasium, her brother at her heels.
Five people were hanging from the ceiling, each suspended by a single rope. They were naked and facing toward her.
"Aren't they gross?"
"Yes," she said and closed the door.
She put her arm around the boy.
"Can we play ball now?"
"No, we can't. We have to find an adult."CHAPTER 2
Detective Inspector Konrad Simonsen was enjoying a vacation. He was sitting in a room with a view in the top story of a summer house and was busy having his fourth smoke of the morning and a cup of coffee. He stared out through the oversize windows at a couple of drifting stratus clouds, not thinking of anything in particular.
The athletic young woman who appeared — just back from her morning run — had removed her socks and shoes so he did not hear her steps as she entered the room, and he gave a start when she spoke. Moreover, he was used to being alone.
"For heaven's sake, Dad. The least you could do is crack a window."
Her outburst was directed at the cigarette smoke that hung heavy in the air; she opened the french doors all the way so that a fresh sea breeze rushed through the room and tossed her blond curls around, until she decided that the worst of the smell was gone and latched the doors. Then she flopped into one of the armchairs across from him without showing any concern for the fact that she thereby crushed the newspaper tucked into her sweatpants.
He said, "Good morning, have you been all the way to Blokhus? That must have been quite a run."
"Morning — it's almost afternoon, sleepyhead. Yes, I've been down to Blokhus, and it's actually not that far."
He pointed to the newspaper.
"Is that for me?"
She answered with irony, but without an edge, "And thank you, my lovely daughter, for making me coffee."
"And thank you, my sweet Anna Mia, for making me coffee."
She took out the newspaper, but then her gaze fell on the ashtray and her steely expression told him what was coming. With a gesture of accusation she pointed to the shutters and her Bornholm dialect grew stronger.
"Four cigarettes before breakfast!"
"You know, I'm on break right now, so it's a bit different than usual."
He could have saved himself the lie.
"You smoke far too much, you drink too much, your diet is terrible, and to call you overweight would be an act of kindness."
He defended himself halfheartedly: "I almost never smoke at work and only moderately in the evenings so surely I can relax occasionally."
"Well, except for the fact that you're lying, that sounds very reasonable."
He didn't know what to say. He glanced in the direction of the newspaper, which was now very far away. Her already serious voice grew even thornier.
"You know you owe me fifteen more years, don't you, Dad?"
The number stung his psyche, and awakened the familiar knowledge of having been a terrible parent. It had been lying dormant for three years, since a happy May evening when she suddenly appeared on his doorstep and explained that she had one week in Copenhagen, and that it seemed most practical and economical for her to stay with him. Said it as if nothing could be more natural. Then she invaded his apartment and his life — an unknown sixteen-year-old girl, pretty, vivacious, full of life ... his daughter.
There was nothing to do but lie down on his shield and hope for mercy, but the words didn't really want to come. To apologize seemed silly, and to promise reform and a new, healthy lifestyle was easier said than done. To top it off, he was not the type who found it easy to share his emotions. He launched into a couple of vague promises, until she suddenly shook off her seriousness and changed the subject.
"Let's get back to that another time, Dad. Tell me, have you gotten used to the digs? This is quite a sophisticated little cottage Nathalie has."
This topic was also explosive, even though it was slightly less personal, and if he hadn't known better, he would have suspected that she'd brought it up deliberately now that he was on the defensive. But she wasn't like that. It was only he who thought of conversations as a form of strategic play with winners and losers — a bad habit that he dismissed somewhat too conveniently as a professional disease and the result of many interrogations. He tried not to let himself be provoked.
"Yes, this is magnificent."
"Why did you get so sulky the day before yesterday when we arrived?"
"Because the Countess is my subordinate, and the whole thing was somewhat overwhelming."
"But you knew it was hers."
"Yes, my lovely girl, I did, but the Lord only knows I was not clear on the standard. This luxury villa would get the euro signs spinning in the eyes of the most exclusive vacation renter, and the fact that we're getting it for small change is unethical and probably also illegal."
"She's rich. So what? Anyway, enough with the 'girl.'"
"And then the refrigerator is stuffed with enough food to see us through an atomic winter."
"But we won't be here for an atomic winter, we're only going to be here for two weeks. You can just cut back on eating, of course. It certainly wouldn't hurt you to draw on your reserves for a while."
"No food, no drink, no smoking; what's next?"
She heard him and continued her lecture.
"Did you know that the flagstones on the terrace are hand-painted Italian stone and that the marble in the entrance hall is called Ølandsbrud?"
"How do you know that?"
"From Nathalie, of course."
No one else referred to the Countess as Nathalie, and it sounded strange to his ears. Nathalie von Rosen was admittedly her given name, but everyone, including herself, referred to her as the Countess.
"Have you been here before?"
"As it happens, yes."
"This gets worse and worse."
"Then you'll think this is even worse, because I have brought a gift along for you."
"A gift? Who is it from?"
"From Nathalie, but I was going to wait a few days before giving it to you."
There was nothing feigned about his look of bewilderment.
"You know, Dad, sometimes you are simply incredibly dense. This isn't that hard to understand, and — if you ask me — she's got a thing for you, and if you just took the slightest care of yourself and dropped fifteen or twenty kilos, you could make a great couple."
The room filled with the small, sharp sounds of bare feet on the whitewashed Pomeranian pine, and she was gone, before he had a chance to comment on her absurd idea.
The gift from the Countess was brilliant. Like a parrot on its perch, Anna Mia settled onto the armrest of his chair (when she returned) and watched closely as he unwrapped it. Aron Nimzowitsch, Mein System, the first edition from 1925, with a dedication from the master himself — a treasure that transported him into a state akin to ecstasy. Meanwhile, Anna Mia managed to read over his shoulder.
"What does she mean, 'Thank you for your help'?"
He turned the card over, too late.
"Don't you have any manners? You don't read other people's letters, do you?"
"I do. What did you help her with?"
"That doesn't concern you!"
They sat for a while in silence, she on the armrest and he in the chair.
"Tell me, how well do you two know each other?" he asked.
"Who? Me and Nathalie?"
Her feigned nonchalance was laughable.
"Yes, of course."
"That doesn't concern you."
They were back to square one.
Shortly thereafter, she became more communicative.
"I don't know Nathalie particularly well, and we haven't gone behind your back. Not very much at any rate, and the fact that I have been here before is pure coincidence. We ran into each other in Skagen last summer, and she asked me to lunch. But I already know how you have helped her. It was during her divorce, wasn't it?"
"We talked a little."
She stroked him over the crown of the head.
"I believe you've earned your book, Dad. So do me a favor and for once don't let's talk about price. Nathalie would never expect to get anything in return for her gifts, that's how she is and you know it."
"Yes, I do. But it is a matter of principle."
"Maybe you have the wrong principles."
She got up and walked over to one of the windows as he gingerly, almost devoutly turned the pages of his book.
"I'm taking a bath. In the meantime you can figure out what we should do today."
"Yes, yes, that's fine."
She had to call him twice before he stirred, and he did not notice that the mood had changed again. He was too far gone in his game of chess.
"Is your cell phone turned on?"
"No. The agreement was that the outside world should be excluded, I think you will recall. Why do you ask?"
He got up with a last long look at a game in the book, then stared out the windows and let his gaze wander along the horizon. The undulating-dune landscape unfolded before him like irregular windswept hills, a shining white where the sun hit them, inky gray and dark on the other side, some invaded by rugosa rose, others anchored by wild rye. In the distance he could see the North Sea with its glittering white-crested waves and above that a flock of wild geese flying south along the coastline. Suddenly he became aware of Anna Mia's arm around him, and her head heavy against his back. A feeling of shyness and awe overcame him, as if her youthfulness was something sacred. But he remained as he was and after a few seconds of eternity she said softly, "They're coming to pick you up, Dad."
Only then did he see it. A disturbingly foreign body slowly snaking its way up along the twisty dune road: a police car.CHAPTER 3
Some four hours later, Simonsen found himself at Langbæk School in Bagsværd, staring out at the rain that was falling, bleak and silent. A canine unit was working in the bushes behind the playground. The police officer directed the dog with hand signals and shouted commands, occasionally bringing it back to be petted and praised. A young woman with a plastic bag wrapped around her head as a makeshift scarf walked up to the officer and for a while she watched the officer's gestures before a gust of wind splattered the window with water and greatly reduced the visibility. He turned his gaze back to the corridor. The colors on the wall were bare and dirty, alternating between various shades of yellow. The linoleum floor was pockmarked and looked like an obstacle course. Somewhat-successful artistic creations hung scattered about. The nearest one employed a preponderance of wire and very dusty soda cans.
He made a gesture of futility. "Dammit, Countess."
The words were intended for the woman behind him, who was talking on a cell phone, and they were said without anger, simply to point out the absurdity of having been transported across the country like an express delivery, only to end up standing around staring out into the dreary October weather. Without knowing much about the investigation, he was expected to take charge, and yet he hadn't the faintest idea where he should go next.
The woman reacted to his outburst, placing one hand over the phone.
"Hello, Simon, sorry about your vacation, but at least you got a couple of days. I hope Anna Mia wasn't too upset. Arne will be here in one second, he'll brief you." She smiled and returned to her call before he was able to answer. He returned her smile without really wanting to, and thought to himself that she had fine teeth. He let his stomach relax and looked out the window again, where the view was still depressing. The Countess's conversation went on and on, which he took as a discomfiting sign that the homicide unit would be in excellent shape to continue without its current chief when the day came.
And yet, perhaps not. Simonsen had been half following the conversation — which he presumed was with one of the forensic specialists — and suddenly he was struck with the thought that something wasn't right. A slightly elevated tone of voice and questions in which there was a certain discrepancy between the level of detail and the time gave her away. When she launched into a question almost identical to one she had already asked, he grabbed her by the arm in which she held the phone and pulled gently. She hung up without saying goodbye.
"When did you last have something to eat?"
"I don't know; a while ago. What time is it?"
He was very familiar with this condition and also knew that it was temporary. From time to time, all investigators encountered things that were difficult to deal with and that got under their skin. Unpleasant images that became fixed in the back of the head and could not be erased. This was clearly one of those times for her. He himself found it hardest when the victims were children, but that was something he had in common with most police officers, and he had not yet been inside the gymnasium. He halted his train of thought and came back to the present.
"Drive into town and get yourself something to eat. Be back here in an hour."
"I'm not hungry."
"That's an order, Countess. And turn off your phone."
Excerpted from The Hanging by Lotte Hammer Jakobson, Søren Hammer Jakobson. Copyright © 2012 Lotte Hammer Jakobson and Søren Hammer Jakobson. 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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
well, it took forever to get this book. I mean months and months. I was excited to start reading it until I started reading it. The theme of child abuse is what kept me reading, thinking and why the 3 stars instead of just 2. two kids find five naked men hanging from their school's gym ceiling. Detective Konrad Simonsen is on the case. Is the killer the school janitor who knows more than he wants to tell? Detective Konrad finds out all the dead men have deep dark secrets and maybe even his daughter has some too. The dialogue is off and somehow stilted, I don't know if this is because of the translation, maybe the editing or if this is the way the authors, a brother sister duo talk. The characters are interesting enough. I usually love page turning Nordic thrillers, this was not it.
The question raised in this novel is simple: In a democracy, is murder justified for obvious criminal transgressions like child abuse and pedophilia? It seems that in Denmark, these behaviors are treated lightly, and a small group of men set about to increase public awareness by murdering five men, guilty of such behaviors, hanging them nude and mutilated from a school gym ceiling. The homicide squad, led by detective Konrad Simonsen, has to work to solve the case in face of the favorable public attitude toward the perpetrators. Basically, the novel is a police procedural, but is unnecessarily slow and plodding. Whether the reason is the writing or the translation cannot be determined. There are some intriguing elements to the plot, such as a devious scheme (however illegal) to draw out the murderer. Also, on the other side, a clever public relations program conducted by the plotters to bring about reform and tightening of the laws governing the crimes and support of the victims. Interesting questions, to be sure.
Intriguing plot; however, it was hard work to finish it. The problem may be with the translation: choppy writing, wrong choice of word in many places; poor transitions.