Ten little rabbits, all dressed in white
Tried to get to heaven on the end of a kite.
Kite string got broken, down they all fell,
Instead of going to heaven, they all went to...
It begins with a nursery rhyme. Nineteen minutes later you die.
A masked stranger stands in the shadows. He watches his victim through the window. He will kill him slowly—make him pay.
Soon the Rabbit Hunter has claimed another three victims. This predator will stop at nothing to reap his ultimate revenge. It’s up to Joona Linna and Saga Bauer to untangle one of the most complex cases of their career, and follow the killer’s trail of destruction back to one horrific night of violence.
About the Author
LARS KEPLER is the pseudonym of the critically acclaimed husband-and-wife team Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril and Alexander Ahndoril. Their number-one internationally best-selling Joona Linna series has sold more than fourteen million copies in forty languages. The Ahndorils were both established writers before they adopted the pen name Lars Kepler and have each published several acclaimed novels. They live in Stockholm, Sweden. Translated by Neil Smith.
Read an Excerpt
Drizzle is falling from the dark sky. There’s no wind, and the illuminated drops form a misty dome that covers Djursholm. The city lights glow high above the rooftops.
Beside the still waters of Germania Bay lies a sprawling villa.
Inside, a young woman walks across the polished floor and Persian carpet as warily as an animal.
Her name is Sofia Stefansson.
Her anxiety makes her register tiny details about the room.
There’s a black remote control on the arm of the sofa, its battery cover taped in place. There are water rings on the table. An old Band-Aid is stuck to the long fringe of the carpet.
The floor creaks, as if someone was creeping through the rooms behind Sofia.
There are splashes of mud from the wet stone path on her high heels and toned calves. Her legs are still muscular, even though she stopped playing soccer two years ago.
Sofia keeps the pepper spray in her hand hidden from the man waiting for her. She keeps telling herself that she’s in control and she wants to be here.
The man is standing by an armchair, watching her move with unabashed frankness.
Sofia’s features are symmetrical, and she has a youthful plumpness in her cheeks. She is wearing a blue dress that shows off her bare shoulders. A row of small, fabric-covered buttons stretches from her neck down between her breasts. The little gold heart on her necklace bobs up and down at the base of her throat in time with her increased heart rate.
She could say that she’s not feeling well, that she needs to go home. It would probably annoy him, but he’d accept it.
The man is looking at her with a hunger that makes her stomach flutter in fear.
She is seized by the feeling that she has met him before—could he have been a senior manager somewhere she worked, the father of a classmate a long time ago?
Sofia stops a short distance away from him, smiles, and feels the rapid beat of her heart. She’s planning to keep her distance until she’s figured him out or the meaning behind his tone and gestures.
His hands don’t look like they belong to a violent man: his nails are neatly trimmed, and his plain wedding ring is scratched from years of marriage.
“Nice house,” she says, tucking a stray lock of hair away from her face.
“Thanks,” he replies.
He can’t be much more than fifty, but he still moves ponderously, like an old man.
“You took a taxi here?” he asks, swallowing hard.
“Yes,” she replies.
They fall silent again. The clock in the next room strikes twice with a brittle clang.
Some saffron-colored pollen falls from a lily in a vase.
Sofia realized at an early age that she found sexually charged situations exciting. She enjoyed being appreciated, the sense of being chosen.
“Have we met before?” she asks.
“I wouldn’t have forgotten something like that,” he replies.
The man’s gray-blond hair is thin, combed back over his head. His slack face is shiny, and his brow is deeply furrowed.
“Do you collect art?” she asks, nodding toward the wall.
“I’m interested in art,” he says.
His pale eyes look at her through horn-rimmed glasses. She turns away and slides the pepper spray into her bag, then walks over to a large painting in a gilded frame.
He follows her and stands slightly too close, breathing through his nose. Sofia startles when he raises his right hand to point.
“Nineteenth century . . . Carl Gustaf Hellqvist,” he lectures. “He died young. He had a troubled life, full of pain. He got electroshock therapy, but he was a wonderful artist.”
“Fascinating,” she replies quietly.
“I think so,” the man says, then walks toward the dining room.
Sofia follows him slowly, feeling she is being lured into a trap. It’s as if the way out were closing behind her sluggishly, cutting off her escape route little by little.
The huge room is furnished with upholstered chairs and polished cabinets. There are rows of leaded windows looking out across the water.
She sees two glasses of red wine on the edge of the dining-room table.
“Can I offer you a glass of wine?” he asks, turning back toward her.
“I’d prefer white, if you have any,” she replies, worried that he might try to drug her.
“Champagne?” he says, without taking his eyes off her.
“That would be lovely,” she replies.
“Then we shall have champagne,” he declares.
When you visit the home of a complete stranger, every room could be a trap, every object a weapon.
Sofia prefers hotels, because at least there’s a chance that someone would hear her if she had to call for help.
She’s following him toward the kitchen when she hears a peculiar, high-pitched sound. She can’t figure out where it’s coming from. The man doesn’t seem to have noticed it, but she stops and turns to look at the dark windows. She’s about to say something when there’s another very distinct sound, like an ice cube cracking in a glass.
“Are you sure there’s no one else here?” she asks.
She could slip her shoes off and run toward the front door if anything happened. She’s more agile than he is, and if she ran she’d be able to get out.
She stands in the kitchen doorway as he takes a bottle of Bollinger from a wine fridge. He opens it and fills two slender glasses before walking over to her.
Sofia sips the champagne. She lets the taste spread through her mouth, hears the bubbles burst in the glass. Something makes her look over toward the windows again. A deer, maybe, she thinks. It’s dark outside. In the reflection she can see the sharp outline of the kitchen and the man’s back.
The man raises his glass again and drinks. His hand is shaking ever so slightly as he gestures toward her.
“Unbutton your dress a little,” he says weakly.
Sofia empties her glass, sees the mark of her lipstick on the rim, and puts it down on the table before gently teasing the top button open.
“You’re wearing a bra,” he says.
“Yes,” she replies, and undoes the second button.
The man stays where he is and watches her with a smile, and Sofia feels her armpits prickle as she starts to sweat.
“What panties are you wearing?”
“Pale blue, silk.”
“Can I see?”
She hesitates, and he notices.
“Sorry,” he says quickly. “Am I being too forward? Is that it?”
“We should probably handle payment first,” she says, trying to sound simultaneously firm and casual.
“I understand,” he says tersely.
“It’s best to get it out of the—”
“You’ll get your money,” he interrupts, with a hint of irritation in his voice.
When she sees her regulars, things are usually very straightforward—pleasant, even—but new clients always make her nervous. She worries about things she’s experienced in the past, like the father of two in Täby who bit her on the neck and locked her in his garage.
She advertises on Pink Pages and Stockholmgirls. Almost all the people who contact her are a waste of time. Crude language, promises of wonderful sex, or threats of violence and punishment.
She always trusts her gut instinct when she starts to correspond with someone new. This particular message was well written. It was fairly direct, but not disrespectful. He said his name was Wille, his phone number was blocked, and he lived in a nice area.
In his third e-mail he explained what he wanted to do to her, and how much he was willing to pay.
She took that as a warning.
If it sounds too good to be true, then there’s something wrong. Nothing comes for free in this world, and it’s better to miss out on a generous deal than put yourself in danger.
Still, she’s here now.
The man returns and hands her an envelope. She counts the money quickly and puts it in her bag.
“Is that enough for you to show me your underwear?” he says.
She smiles warmly, gently takes hold of both sides of her dress, and slowly lifts it above her knees. The hem rubs against her nylon stockings. She pauses and looks at him.
He doesn’t meet her gaze, just stares down between her legs as she gradually raises the dress to her waist. Her silk underwear shimmers like mother-of-pearl beneath her pale pantyhose.
“Are you shaved?” he asks in a slightly hoarser voice.
“Yes,” she replies.
“That must hurt,” he says, sounding genuinely interested.
“You get used to it,” she says with a nod.
“Like a lot of things in life,” he whispers.
She lets her dress drop again and takes the opportunity to wipe the sweat from her palms as she smooths the fabric over her thighs.
Even though she has the money, she’s starting to feel nervous again.
Possibly because he paid so much, five times more than any previous client.
In one of his e-mails he explained that he was prepared to pay extra for her discretion, and for his specific wishes, but this is way above her normal rate.
She didn’t think what he wanted sounded that bad.
She remembers one man with worried eyes who dressed up in his mother’s underwear and wanted her to kick him in the crotch. He paid for her to pee on him as he lay on the floor crying in pain, but she couldn’t do it. She just grabbed the money and ran.
“People get turned on by all sorts of things,” Wille says with an embarrassed smile. “Obviously, you can’t force anyone. . . . I mean, you have to pay for some things. I’m not expecting you to actually enjoy what you do.”
“It depends, but I do sometimes enjoy it if the man’s gentle,” she lies.
Naturally, Sofia promises full discretion in her ad, but she still has one safety measure as a precaution. She keeps a diary at home, where she makes a note of the names and addresses of people she’s arranged to meet, so that someone will be able to find her if she ever goes missing.
Besides, Tamara saw Wille once, just before she stopped working as an escort, got married, and moved to Gothenburg. Tamara would have posted a warning on the sex workers’ forum if he’d behaved inappropriately.