A KILLER WITH A MESSAGE.
Two men are dead. Both had been bullies at school. A single clue has been found at the scene: a class photo, with two faces neatly crossed out.
A DETECTIVE WHO CAN’T LET GO.
Fabian Risk is among the faces in the photograph. He’s also the lead detective on the case. He thought he’d left his schooldays behind. Now his classmates are dying for the sins of their childhood. . . .
CAN YOU EVER HIDE FROM JUSTICE?
The first book in an internationally bestselling, award-winning series, Stefan Ahnhem's Victim Without a Face is a chilling novel about the ultimate revenge.
About the Author
STEFAN AHNHEM is an established screenwriter for both TV and film, and has worked on a variety of projects, including adaptations of Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series. He also serves on the board of the Swedish Writers Guild.Victim Without a Face, his first novel, won Sweden’s Crimetime Specsavers Award and Germany’s MIMI for best crime fiction. He lives in Stockholm.
Read an Excerpt
Victim Without a Face
By Stefan Ahnhem, Rachel Willson-Broyles
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Stefan Ahnhem
All rights reserved.
FABIAN RISK HAD DRIVEN this route more times than he could remember, but it had never felt as easy and uplifting as it did right now. His family had left Stockholm early in the morning and rewarded themselves with a long lunch break in Gränna.
Fabian's anxiety about moving back to his hometown was already starting to dissipate. Sonja was happy, almost bubbly, and had offered to drive the last stretch through Småland so he could enjoy a beer with his herring at lunch. Everything was almost too perfect, and he found himself wondering if it was all just for show. If he were to be totally honest with himself, deep down he had been hesitant to believe that running away from their problems and starting over again would truly work.
The children had reacted just as expected. Matilda saw it as an exciting adventure, even though she would have to start fourth grade at a new school. Theodor hadn't been quite as positive, and even threatened to stay behind in Stockholm. But after their lunch in Gränna, it seemed that even Theodor was willing to give it a chance, and to everyone's surprise he had taken his earphones out and spoken with them several times during the car ride.
But best of all was that the shouting had finally stopped. The shouts and screams of people begging and pleading for their lives had hounded Fabian for the past six months, both in his dreams and during the better part of his waking hours. He had first noticed their absence around Södertälje, southwest of Stockholm, but he'd assumed it was just a figment of his imagination. Not until they'd passed Norrköping was he totally sure that with every kilometre the voices were losing strength. Now that they had arrived, 556 kilometres later, the voices were silent altogether.
It was as if their life in Stockholm and the incidents of last winter were deep in the past. They were starting out fresh, Fabian thought, inserting the key into the lock of their new home, an English red-brick row house on Pålsjögatan. Up to this point Fabian was the only member of the family who had been inside, but he wasn't at all nervous about what everyone else would think. As soon as he had seen that this house was for sale, he was sure that it was the only place for them to begin their new lives.
Pålsjögatan 17 was in the Tågaborg neighbourhood, a stone's throw from downtown and just around the corner from the Pålsjö forest. Fabian had plans to jog in the woodland each morning and start playing tennis again on the clay courts nearby. The seaside was also very close: it was a quick walk down Halalid hill to get to Fria Bad, the public beach where he had gone swimming all the time as a boy. Back then he used to pretend that he lived in this very neighbourhood rather than the yellow tenement buildings up in Dalhem. Now, thirty years later, his dream had come true.
"Dad, what are you waiting for? Aren't you going to answer that?" Theodor asked.
Fabian roused from his daydream and realized that the rest of his family were down on the sidewalk, waiting for him to pick up his ringing phone: it was Astrid Tuvesson, his new — or rather, future — boss in the criminal investigation department of the Helsingborg police.
He was still part of the Stockholm police department on paper for another six weeks. Outwardly, it had been his own decision to quit, but Fabian had no doubt that most of his old colleagues knew what really happened. He would never be able to set foot in that police station again.
Now he had six weeks of involuntary vacation, which was starting to seem more and more appealing. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had this much time off — it must have been since he'd finished school. The plan was to use the six weeks to get settled in their new house and city. Depending on the weather and their mood, they might even take a trip somewhere warmer. The last thing they wanted to do was stress out. Astrid Tuvesson was undoubtedly well aware of this fact. And yet she was calling.
Something must have happened, but Fabian and Sonja had made a promise to each other. This summer, they would be a family again and share their parental responsibilities. Fabian was hoping that Sonja would have the energy to finish her last few paintings for an exhibition this fall.
Weren't there other police officers in Helsingborg who weren't on vacation?
"No, the call can wait," he said, putting his phone in his pocket. He unlocked the front door of the house and opened it for Theodor and Matilda, who were fighting each other to be the first one in. "If I were you, I'd check out the backyard!" He turned to Sonja, who was coming up the stairs with an iPod speaker in her hands.
"Who was that?"
"It wasn't important. Come on, let's look at the house."
"No. It wasn't," Fabian said. He could see in her eyes that she didn't believe him, so he got out the phone to show her who had called. "It was my future boss, who I'm sure just wanted to welcome us to town." He guided Sonja into the house with his hands in front of her eyes. "Ta-da!" He removed his hands and watched as she looked around the empty living room with its fireplace, and the connecting kitchen that looked out onto the small backyard, where Matilda could be seen jumping on a big trampoline.
"Wow. This is ... absolutely fantastic."
"So it gets a passing grade? You like it?"
Sonja nodded. "Did the movers say anything about when they'll be here?"
"Only that it will be sometime this afternoon or evening. We can always hope they're delayed and don't get here until tomorrow."
"Why would we hope that, may I ask?" Sonja said, placing her arms around his neck.
"We have everything we need right here. A clean floor, candles, wine, and music." Fabian pulled out his old, scratched iPod Classic and placed it in the speaker, which Sonja had put on the kitchen island. He chose Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago — a favourite album of the last few weeks. He'd been late to hop on the Bon Iver bandwagon. He had initially thought the record was boring, but upon giving it a second chance had realized what a masterpiece it really was.
He put his arms around Sonja and started dancing. She laughed and did her best to follow his improvised steps. He looked into her hazel eyes as she loosened her hair clip and let her brown hair down. The exercise her therapist had prescribed had certainly brought results, both mentally and physically. She must have lost about ten pounds. She'd never been fat, quite the opposite, but her facial features were sharper, and it suited her. Fabian swung around suddenly and dipped her. She laughed again and he realized how much he'd missed that sound.
They had discussed a number of solutions before settling on Helsingborg. Everything from moving out of their apartment near Södra Station and buying a house in one of Stockholm's many inner suburbs, to buying a second apartment and having a trial separation, taking care of the children in turns. None of these alternatives had seemed right. Whether it was because they were too afraid they might get divorced or because deep down they actually still loved each another was still unclear.
It wasn't until he found the house on Pålsjögatan that everything fell into place. He was offered a job as detective inspector with the Helsingborg police, there were open spots at Tågaborg School, and Fabian had found this perfect house, with its large, sky-lit attic that would make an ideal studio for Sonja. It was as if someone had taken mercy on them and decided to give them one last chance.
"What do we do about the kids?" Sonja whispered in his ear.
"I'm sure there's some room down in the basement where we can lock them up."
Sonja was about to respond, but Fabian interrupted her with a kiss. They were still dancing when the doorbell rang.
"Are the movers here already?" Sonja pulled away. "Maybe we'll get to sleep in our beds after all."
"And I was so looking forward to the floor."
"I'm sure the floor is still available. I said sleep. Nothing more." She resumed their kiss, letting her hand run down his stomach to find its way under his waistband.
Everything is going to turn out fine and we will live happily ever after, Fabian thought as she removed her hand and went to open the door.
"Hi, my name is Astrid Tuvesson. I'm one of your husband's new colleagues." The woman in the doorway extended her hand to Sonja. With her other hand, she pushed her sunglasses up into her curly blonde hair, which, along with her colourful dress, thin brown legs, and sandals, made her look a decade younger than fifty-two.
"Oh? Hello?" Sonja turned to Fabian, who walked over and shook hands with Tuvesson.
"You mean future colleague. I don't start until August sixteenth," Fabian said, noticing that her left earlobe was completely missing.
"Future boss, then, if we're going to be that nit-picky." She laughed and adjusted her hair to hide her ear, and Fabian found himself wondering if it was an injury or something she'd been born with. "Sorry. I really don't want to bother you in the middle of your vacation, and you both must be tired after your trip, but —"
"No problem," Sonja interrupted. "Come in. Unfortunately we can't offer you anything because we're still waiting for the movers."
"That's quite alright. All I need is a few minutes with your husband."
Sonja nodded mutely and Fabian showed Tuvesson to the deck out back, closing the door behind them.
"I gave in and bought my kids a trampoline, too. They had to bug me for several years before I agreed to it, and by that time they were too old." Tuvesson said.
"I'm sorry, but why are you here?" Fabian had no desire whatsoever to spend his vacation making small talk with his new boss.
"There's been a murder."
"Has there? What a shame. I don't mean to interfere, but wouldn't it be better to talk to one of your colleagues who isn't on vacation?"
"Jörgen Pålsson. Sound familiar?"
"Is he the victim?"
Fabian recognized the name, but he wasn't tempted to try and place it. The last thing he wanted to do was work. He was beginning to feel like a fully loaded oil tanker that had just been hijacked by pirates and forced to turn away from an island paradise.
"Maybe this will jog your memory." Tuvesson held up a plastic sleeve with a photograph inside. "It was on the victim's body."
Fabian looked at the photo, and knew immediately that there would be no island paradise for him. He recognized the image, although he couldn't remember the last time he'd seen it. It was his class photo from the ninth grade, the last year of compulsory school — the last picture of all of them together. He was in the second row, and Jörgen Pålsson was behind him — crossed out with black marker.CHAPTER 2
FABIAN HAD SPENT JUST one hour in the house — one hour — before the doorbell rang. He understood why Tuvesson had chosen to contact him: he might be able to remember something that could speed up the investigation, and even save a few lives in the long run. But Fabian hardly remembered anything about compulsory school and he had no desire to relive that period of his life.
Tuvesson led Fabian to her white Corolla across the street from the house. She had offered to drive him to the crime scene and back, so that Sonja could unload their car. "Just so we're clear, I truly appreciate you taking the time to come with me, even though you're in the middle of a vacation."
"Middle? It's hardly even begun."
"I promise this won't take more than an hour." Tuvesson stuck the key in the lock and turned it. "The car has automatic locks, but the door sticks, so you'll have to put some muscle into it." Fabian yanked the door open and noticed the passenger seat was covered with empty travel mugs, open packs of Marlboros, keys, scraps of food, used paper towels, and a box of tampons.
"Sorry. Hold on, I'll ..." She swept everything but the keys and the cigarettes onto the floor. Fabian got in and Tuvesson started the car and pulled away. "Is it okay if I smoke?" Before he could respond, she lit a cigarette and rolled down her window. "I'm actually going to quit. People always say that but don't follow through. But I'm planning on it — just not right now," she continued, taking a deep drag as she turned left onto Tågagatan.
"No problem," said Fabian, his eyes glued to the class photo with Jörgen's crossed-out face. Why hadn't he been able to recall Jörgen Pålsson? If there was anyone he should remember, it was Jörgen. Of course, he had never liked him, so that might explain it. Maybe he had simply repressed the memory of him. "Where was his body found?"
"Fredriksdal School. From what I understand, he was a shop teacher there."
"He was also a student there once."
"Not everyone has the opportunity to go all the way to Stockholm, Mr. Risk. What do you know about Jörgen?"
"Pretty much nothing. We never hung out." Fabian started thinking about his school days, how all the guys used to wear Lyle & Scott sweaters and how the TV would be rolled in to watch skiing sensation Ingemar Stenmark. "To be completely honest, I didn't like him."
"No? Why not?"
"He was the class bully and a general pain. He did whatever he wanted."
"We had a guy like that at our school, too. He disrupted all the classes and took other people's lunch trays. No one stood up to him, not even the teachers." Tuvesson sucked the last bit of nicotine from her cigarette and flicked the butt out the window. "That was back in the day before all the letter-combo diagnoses like ADD and ADHD."
"Jörgen also only listened to KISS and Sweet."
"What's wrong with KISS and Sweet?"
"Nothing. They're good. But I only figured that out a few years ago."
FABIAN STEPPED OUT OF the car and looked at Fredriksdal School, a two-storey red-brick building that loomed behind the deserted schoolyard. Two basketball hoops with ragged nets stuck up out of the asphalt — a reminder that this was normally a place for children. He let his eyes explore the long rows of narrow, prison-like windows and had a hard time understanding how he'd survived three years in this building.
"Who found him?"
"Before I get to that, his wife called to report him missing a week ago, last Wednesday, but there was nothing we could do at that point. He had gone down to Germany the day before to buy beer for Midsummer, and was supposed to have returned home that evening."
"Buying beer in Germany? Is that still worth the trip?"
"It is if you buy enough. Forty kronor a case, and you get reimbursed for the ferry trip back if you don't stay longer than three hours."
Travelling all the way down to Germany just to fill your car to the brim with beer? The more Fabian thought about it, the better it seemed to fit with the Jörgen he was starting to remember. Jörgen, and possibly his partner-in-crime Glenn. "Did he never make it to Germany?"
"He was definitely there. We checked at Øresund Bridge and he returned on Tuesday night, as planned. But that's where all traces of him end. Our next clue didn't come until yesterday, when a glass company requested the removal of a vehicle that was blocking its cherry picker."
Tuvesson nodded and they continued around the corner to the back of the school building. About twenty metres away, a Chevy pickup truck was parked next to a cherry picker. Police tape was already up, forming a generous perimeter. Two uniformed officers were guarding the area.
A middle-aged man with thinning hair, who was wearing disposable blue coveralls, approached Fabian and Tuvesson. His glasses were perched low on his nose.
"I want to introduce the two of you," Tuvesson said. "Ingvar Molander, our forensic investigator, please meet Fabian Risk, who doesn't officially start until August."
"Does it matter when you have an investigation like this to sink your teeth into?" Molander pulled his glasses down even further down his nose, and eyed Fabian as he extended his hand.
"It does make you wonder," Fabian lied, shaking Molander's hand.
"You're right about that. I promise you won't be disappointed."
"Ingvar, he's just here to do a quick once-over."
Molander gave her a look that sparked Fabian's curiosity, albeit reluctantly. Then he showed them into the school building and gave them each a set of coveralls.
Excerpted from Victim Without a Face by Stefan Ahnhem, Rachel Willson-Broyles. Copyright © 2015 Stefan Ahnhem. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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