The internationally bestselling authors of The Sandman and The Hypnotist return with a terrifying new thriller: Detective Joona Linnarecently returned from compassionate leavereunites with hypnotist Erik Maria Bark in a search for a seemingly unassailable sadistic killer.
The Swedish National Crime Unit receives a video of a young woman in her home, clearly unaware that she's being watched. Soon after the tape is received, the woman's body is found horrifically mutilated. With the arrival of the next, similar video, the police understand that the killer is toying with them, warning of a new victim, knowing there's nothing they can do. Detective Margot Silverman is put in charge of the investigation, and soon asks Detective Joona Linna for help. Linna, in turn, recruits Erik Maria Bark, the hypnotist and expert in trauma, with whom Linna's worked before. Bark is leery of forcing people to give up their secrets. But this time, Bark is the one hiding things.
Years before, he had put a man away for an eerily similar crime, and now he's beginning to think that an innocent man may be behind barsand a serial killer still on the loose. . .
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 bestselling Joona Linna series has sold more than thirteen 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
Excerpted from Stalker
It wasn’t until the first body was found that anyone took the video seriously. A link to a YouTube video had been sent to the National Crime Unit’s public email address. The sender was impossible to trace. The police secretary followed the link, watched the video, assumed it was a rather baffling joke, and entered it in the records.
Two days later three detectives gathered in a small room on the eighth floor of National Crime headquarters in Stockholm, as a result of that very video.
The clip they were watching was only fifty-two seconds long.
The shaky footage, filmed with a handheld camera through a bedroom window, showed a woman in her thirties putting on a pair of black tights.
The three men watched the woman’s movements in embarrassed silence.
To get the tights to sit comfortably, she took long strides over imaginary obstacles and did several squats.
On Monday morning the woman had been found in the kitchen of a terraced house on the island of Lidingö, on the outskirts of Stockholm. She was sitting on the floor with her mouth grotesquely split open. Blood had splattered the window and a white orchid in its flowerpot. She was wearing nothing but a pair of tights and a bra.
The postmortem concluded that she had bled to death as a result of multiple lacerations and stab wounds that were concentrated, in a display of extraordinary brutality, around her throat and face.
The word stalker has existed since the early 1700s. In those days it meant a tracker or poacher.
In 1921 the French psychiatrist de Clérambault published what is widely regarded as the first modern analysis of a stalker, a study of a patient suffering from erotomania. Today a stalker is someone who suffers from obsessive fixations, or an unhealthy obsession with monitoring another individual’s activities.
Almost ten percent of the population will be subjected to some form of stalking in the course of their lifetime.
Most stalkers have or used to have a relationship with the victim. But in a striking number of cases, the fixation is focused on strangers or people in the public eye, and coincidence plays a key role.
Even though the vast majority of cases never require intervention, the police treat the phenomenon seriously because a stalker’s pathological obsessiveness brings with it inherent danger. Just as clouds rolling between areas of high and low pressure can turn into a tornado, a stalker’s emotional swings between worship and hatred can suddenly become extremely violent.
It’s a quarter to nine on Friday, August 22. After the magical sunsets and light nights of high summer, darkness is encroaching with surprising speed. It’s already dusk outside the National Police Authority.
Margot Silverman gets out of the elevator and walks toward the security doors in the foyer. She’s wearing a black cardigan, a white blouse that fits tightly around her chest, and long black pants whose high waist is stretched across her expanding stomach.
She ambles toward the revolving doors in the glass wall.
Margot’s hair is the color of polished birch wood and is pulled into a thick braid down her back. She has moist eyes and rosy cheeks. She is thirty-six years old and pregnant with her third child.
She’s heading home after a long week. She’s worked overtime every day and has received two warnings for pushing herself too hard.
She is the new police expert on serial killers, spree killers, and stalkers. The murder of Maria Carlsson is the first case she’s been in charge of since her appointment.
There are no witnesses and no suspects. The victim was single and had no children. She worked as a product adviser for Ikea and had inherited her parents’ unmortgaged town house after her father died and her mother went into a nursing home.
On most days, Maria traveled to work with a colleague. They would meet down on Kyrk Road. When she wasn’t there that morning, her colleague drove to her house and rang the doorbell, looked through the windows, and then walked around the back and saw her. She was sitting on the floor, her face covered in knife wounds, her neck almost sliced through, her head lolling to one side, and her mouth strangely wide open.
According to the postmortem, there was evidence to suggest that her mouth had been so arranged after death.
When Margot was appointed to head the investigation, she knew she couldn’t seem too aggressive. She has a tendency to be overeager.
Her colleagues would have laughed if she’d told them she was absolutely convinced that they were dealing with a serial killer.
Over the course of the week, Margot has watched the video of Maria Carlsson putting her tights on more than two hundred times. All the evidence suggests she was murdered shortly after the recording was uploaded to YouTube.
Margot can’t see anything that makes this video special. It’s not unusual for people to have a tights fetish, but nothing about the murder indicates that sort of inclination.
The video is simply a brief excerpt from an ordinary woman’s life. She’s single, has a good job, and takes cartoon drawing classes at night.
There’s no way of knowing why the perpetrator was in her garden, whether it was pure chance or the result of a carefully planned operation, but in the minutes before the murder, he captured her on video.
Given that he sent the link to the police, he must have wanted to show them something. He wanted to highlight something about this particular woman, or a certain type of woman. Maybe it’s about all women.
But to Margot’s eyes, there’s nothing unusual about the woman’s behavior or appearance. She’s simply concentrating on getting her tights on properly.
Margot has visited the house on Bredablicks Road twice, but she’s spent most of her time examining the video of the crime scene before it was contaminated.
The perpetrator’s film almost looks like a lovingly created work of art compared to the police’s crime scene video. The forensics team’s minutely detailed recording of the evidence is relentless. The dead woman is filmed from various angles as she sits with her legs stretched out on the floor, surrounded by dark blood. Her bra is in shreds, dangling from one shoulder, and one white breast hangs down toward the bulge of her stomach. There’s almost nothing left of her face, just a gaping mouth surrounded by red pulp.
Margot stops as if by chance beside the fruit bowl, glances over at the guard, who is talking on the phone, then turns her back to him. For a few seconds, she watches the guard’s reflection in the glass wall, then takes six apples from the bowl and puts them in her bag.
Six is too many, she knows that, but she can’t stop herself. It’s occurred to her that Jenny might like to make an apple pie that evening, with lots of butter, cinnamon, and sugar.
Her thoughts are interrupted when her phone rings. She looks at the screen and sees a picture of Adam Youssef, a member of the investigating team.
“Are you still in the building?” Adam asks. “Please tell me you’re still here, because we’ve—”
“I’m sitting in the car on Klarastrands Road,” Margot lies. “What do you need?”
“He’s uploaded a new video.”
She feels her stomach clench and puts one hand under the heavy bulge. “A new video,” she repeats.
“Are you coming back?”
“I’ll stop and turn around,” she says, and begins to retrace her steps. “Make sure we get a decent copy of the recording.”
Margot could have just gone home, leaving the case in Adam’s hands. It would take only a phone call to arrange a full year of paid maternity leave. Her fate is hanging in the balance. She doesn’t know what this case will bring, but she can sense its gravity, its dark pull.
The light in the elevator makes her face seem older in the reflection of the shining doors. The thick, dark line of mascara around her eyes is almost gone. As she leans her head back, she realizes she’s starting to look like her father, the former commissioner.
The elevator stops at the eighth floor, and she walks along the empty hallway as fast as her bulging stomach will allow. She and Adam moved into Joona Linna’s old office the same week the police held a memorial service for him. Margot never knew Joona personally and had no problem taking over his office.
“You have a fast car,” Adam says as she walks in, then smiles, showing his sharp teeth.
“Pretty fast,” Margot replies.
Adam joined the police force after a brief stint as a professional soccer player. He is twenty-eight years old, with long hair and a round youthful face. His short-sleeved shirt is untucked.
“How long has the video been up?” she asks.
“Three minutes,” Adam says. “He’s there now. Standing outside the window and—”
“We don’t know that, but—”
“I think he is,” he interrupts.
Margot sets her heavy bag on the floor, sits down on her chair, and calls forensics.
“Margot here. Have you downloaded a copy?” she asks. “Listen, I need a location or a name. All the resources you’ve got. You have five minutes—do whatever the hell you want—just give me something, and I promise I’ll let you go so you can enjoy your Friday evening.”
She puts the phone down and opens the pizza box on Adam’s desk. “Are you done with this?” she asks.
There’s a ping as an email arrives, and Margot quickly stuffs a piece of pizza crust into her mouth. A worry line deepens on her forehead. She clicks on the video file and maximizes the onscreen image, pushes her braid over her shoulder, and rolls her chair back so Adam can see.
The first shot is an illuminated window shimmering in the darkness. The camera moves slowly closer through leaves that brush the lens.
Margot feels the hair on her arms stand up.
A woman is in front of a television, eating ice cream from a carton. She’s pulled her sweatpants down and is balancing on one foot. One of her socks is off.
She glances at the television and smiles at something, then licks the spoon.
The only sound in police headquarters is the computer fan.
Just give me one detail to go on, Margot thinks as she looks at the woman’s face. Her body seems to be steaming with residual heat. She’s just been for a run. The elastic of her underwear is loose after too many washings, and her bra is clearly visible through her sweat-stained shirt.
Margot leans closer to the screen, her stomach pressing against her thighs, and her heavy braid falls forward over her shoulder.
“One minute to go,” Adam says.
The woman sets the carton of ice cream on the coffee table and leaves the room, her sweatpants still dangling from one foot.
The camera follows her, moving sideways past a narrow door until it reaches the bedroom window, where the light goes on and the woman comes into view. She kicks her pants off. They fly through the air, hit the wall behind an armchair with a red cushion, and fall to the floor.