Göteborg, Sweden: The high-speed chase of a stolen BMW takes a chilling turn when the two police officers involved witness a gruesome hit-and-run. When they finally recover the abandoned vehicle, search dogs are unable to trace the thieves, but they do uncover an entirely different horror: the half-naked corpse of a young girl in a nearby root cellar.
As Detective Inspector Irene Huss and her colleagues struggle to put the pieces together, they discover the man whose car was stolen—a retired police officer—is none other than the victim in the hit-and-run. Could it be a strange coincidence? Or is something larger at play? Meanwhile, the hunt for the girl’s killer leads Irene into the dark world of sex trafficking. An international criminal has arrived in Göteborg, and he’ll stop at nothing to expand his sinister operation.
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The new moon and the stars shone as brightly as diamonds in the blue-black January sky. Their reflection glittered in the rime-frost covering Gotebörg. The car’s external thermometer was already showing minus fifteen degrees. The temperature would probably drop even further during the night. The harsh cold had managed to maintain its iron grip on the country for almost two weeks now, although no snow had yet fallen in the west of Sweden.
Officer Stefan Eriksson was yawning in the pleasant warmth of the patrol car. The engine was idling, and he didn’t give a thought to any environmental concerns. When the weather was like this, the important thing was not to let the icy cold come creeping in. He stole a glance at the brightly lit hatch of the kiosk that served food. Petrén, his colleague, was at the front of the queue and was just paying. A cup of hot coffee and a cheeseburger with all the extras would definitely hit the spot right now, an hour before the end of their shift. A loud rumble from Eriksson’s stomach confirmed that it was high time he got something inside him. Neither of them had eaten since they came on duty at four o’clock in the afternoon—not because the evening had been unusually busy, but because they had been called to deal with a fight at a pizzeria in the Old Town just as they were due to go back to the station for their meal break.
Without bothering to rush, they had headed north to the address they had been given. The arrival of the patrol car had had a calming effect on the three guys involved in the fight, and Eriksson and Petrén had soon had the situation under control. Nobody wanted to make a formal complaint; suddenly all three men were in total agreement that they had been engaged in nothing more than a lively discussion. The fact that one of them had a broken nose and was bleeding so profusely he had to be taken to Östra Hospital by ambulance was merely a regrettable accident. As were the red marks on the faces of the other two. All three of them would be sporting impressive bruises in various shades of blue and purple in a few hours. Since no one wanted the police to take any further action, Eriksson and Petrén left the pizzeria as soon as the man with the broken nose had been taken away. A report on the incident would be sufficient.
After that the officers had agreed they weren’t in the mood for pizza, so they had driven to the kiosk on Delsjövägen. It was easy to park there, and the fast food was supposed to be pretty good—at least according to Petrén. He was a single guy, and more or less lived off that kind of stuff.
Eriksson was roused from his thoughts as the radio burst into life:
Calling all cars: a metallic silver BMW 630 was stolen in
Stampen a few minutes ago. The owner saw two young men jump into the car and drive off along Skånegatan heading toward Liseberg. Both were wearing dark woolen hats and dark clothing. The witness thought they were of average height, slight build. The registration number of the car is . . .
Skånegatan, heading toward Liseberg. That meant they would be driving past the police station. The nerve of the bastards, Eriksson thought.
Petrén hurried toward the car with a bag of cheeseburgers in one hand and their cups of coffee in the other. He was wearing gloves, and it looked like a pretty risky balancing act; Eriksson reached across and opened the passenger door for his colleague. Petrén slid his hip into the car and bent his knee, then suddenly stopped with one foot on the floor of the car and the other on the tarmac.
Eriksson could feel the cold quickly spreading through the warm interior, and said crossly, “Get your ass in here before . . .” He broke off in the middle of the sentence and sat there open-mouthed. A car was speeding toward them along Delsjövägen, its high beams on and its engine racing. As the car passed beneath a street lamp just a few meters away, Eriksson registered the fact that it was light-colored, probably silver—definitely a large BMW. It skidded sharply as the driver put his foot down and slid past the patrol car with screeching tires.
“Jesus Christ, it’s the stolen BMW!” Eriksson shouted.
“What stolen BMW?” Petrén asked as he carefully slid into the passenger seat.
“The one we had a call about just now! Get on the radio and tell them we’re after the bastard!”
“What do you mean, can’t?”
“Hands full.” Petrén held up the coffee cups and the bag by way of explanation.
“For Christ’s sake, just get rid of it!” Eriksson roared.
Without a word, Petrén pushed the button to open the window with his right elbow. The discreet hum as the window slid down was drowned out by the sound of the patrol car’s tires as they spun on the tarmac. Without further ado, Petrén threw out their coffee and burgers, and as the window began to close, he grabbed the microphone and called control.
“S-H-O eleven zero one by the kiosk on Delsjövägen. The stolen BMW has just driven past us heading in the direction of Kålltorp, traveling at high speed. In pursuit. Over.”
“Thank you, eleven zero one. I’ll call for assistance from other patrols. Thirteen zero four is on the way from Östra Hospital and can cut across from the opposite direction. Backup is on the way.”
Eriksson drove as fast as he dared. He could see the rear lights of the BMW disappearing in the direction of Swedish Television’s brightly lit, box-shaped building. He put his foot down hard, and suddenly the lights in front of him glowed as brightly as two red fireworks. The BMW was swerving all over the place and looked as if it might actually go off the road.
The two police officers saw something fly up in the air, then land to one side of the car. Whatever it was, it lay motionless on the tarmac next to the sidewalk. When the driver had regained control, the BMW immediately took off again.
The patrol car slowed down and stopped.
“Shit! It’s a person! Call it in!” Eriksson shouted, frantic.
Petrén once again seized the microphone with a steady hand and spoke to control in a voice that was significantly less steady, “Eleven zero one here. The BMW has hit a pedestrian outside Swedish Television. Send an ambulance and backup. We need to remain at the scene. Over.”
“Understood. We’ll send an ambulance and another patrol. Other teams will continue to pursue the BMW.”
Stefan Eriksson was already out of the car and didn’t hear the response. He reached the motionless body in a few long strides.
There was a lot of blood, and the dark pool was growing with terrifying speed. No human being could lose this much blood and survive. Deep down, Eriksson knew this person was already dead, but he cautiously moved closer to the victim’s head to check for a carotid pulse. He changed his mind, however, when he saw the state of the head. In order for a person to survive, the brain needs to be inside the skull. This brain wasn’t.
Eriksson had seen many traffic accident casualties during his years of service, but this one looked particularly gruesome. Because the car had been traveling so fast, the victim’s unprotected limbs and head had been crushed with immense force. It wouldn’t be easy to identify this person, he thought. He could hear the sound of approaching sirens in the distance. He glanced over his shoulder and saw his colleague setting out the reflective plastic screens marked police. The blue flashing lights of the patrol car cast an eerie glow over the scene of the accident. A few cars had pulled up, but Petrén was managing to keep the occupants away.
The body was lying on its back, with both legs twisted in an unnatural position. The lower half of the left leg appeared to have snapped off completely, given the way it was lying in relation to the thighbone. The left arm was flung straight out to the side, but the hand was missing. When Eriksson looked around, he spotted a lump on the sidewalk that was probably the severed hand. The clothing suggested the victim was male. He was wearing some kind of black or dark blue tracksuit. His right hand lay limply on his chest. Somehow the mangled body gave an impression of peace, as if the man had realized he was going to die and had instinctively placed his hand upon his heart to feel its final beat.
The second patrol car arrived, closely followed by the ambulance. Illuminated by the flashing blue lights, something shone faintly next to the dead man’s hand, just above the heart. Eriksson was careful to avoid stepping in the blood as he moved closer to take a look.
At first his brain refused to accept what he was seeing. He recognized it instantly because he had seen it countless times before. When Petrén and their newly arrived colleagues came over, Eriksson pointed at the victim’s chest with a shaking hand.
A few minutes after the hit-and-run outside the TV studios, a report came in from someone who had been standing at the Lilla Torp tram stop. According to the caller, a car had turned onto Töpelsgatan and continued toward the Delsjö area at high speed. The witness thought the windshield was broken because he had seen a young man hanging out of the window on the passenger side, apparently shouting directions to the driver.
Several patrol cars had been dispatched immediately to follow up on this information. There were many, many smaller roads leading off the main route up toward the recreation and bathing area at Delsjö, and the holiday village had to be taken into account, with its countless minor roads and parking lots. There was also a chance that the car thieves had turned onto one of the bridle paths. It wouldn’t be too difficult to ride a car among the trees in the darkness. The deciduous trees were bare in January, but there were dense thickets of conifers along both sides of the road.
After only ten minutes, a patrol found the abandoned BMW; the glow of the fire through the trees led them straight to it. The thieves had torched the car before taking off. The officers managed to put out the flames using the fire extinguisher in their car; the damage to the interior of the BMW was not severe, but would of course hamper the search for any traces of the perpetrators. The windshield was still in place and holding together, but had shattered into milky opaqueness. The car was parked in front of a sturdy barrier.
The other patrol cars were quickly called to the scene, and officers began searching the surrounding area, the beams of their flashlights flickering among the trees. The ground was very hilly and the dense undergrowth difficult to penetrate. On one side the ground fell away steeply toward a stream, while on the other it climbed sharply up Alfred Gärdes path, leading to Delsjö swimming area.
There was a boarded-up brick building a few dozen meters down the slope. It wasn’t very big, and had probably been used to store tools. Instead of windows and doors, all the openings were covered with thick hardboard. The whole place was in a state of advanced decay. It was probably still standing only because it hadn’t yet decided in which direction to collapse. Several police officers surrounded the building, trying to move as quietly as possible. They were breathing hard, their breath misty in the cold night air. The atmosphere was tense because they had no idea whether the car thieves were armed. One officer crept forward to a damaged sheet of hardboard partly covering the doorway. She pressed her back against the wall and drew her gun. A colleague followed her, a crowbar in his hand.
“This building is surrounded!” an officer shouted from the other side. “You might as well give up right now! Come out with your hands up!”
There wasn’t a sound from inside the derelict structure. The cold crackled in the branches of the trees, and the frozen grass crunched whenever one of the officers changed position. Apart from that, there was silence in the darkness. The female officer by the door nodded to her colleague, who quickly forced the crowbar under the broken board. He leaned on the shaft with all his strength and pushed as hard as he could. With a creak, the board came away and fell to the ground. The officer quickly positioned himself by the wall on the other side of the door and switched on his flashlight. Keeping his head well back, he directed the beam through the opening, moving it across the compact darkness of the interior.
No movement. Nothing.
After a while both officers slipped cautiously inside. A few tense seconds later came the sound of surprised exclamations, mixed with sniggering and slightly hysterical laughter.
“There’s nothing to worry about—it’s just some animal!” shouted the male officer.
“It’s coming out!” his colleague added.
A small shape came waddling out through the doorway, blinking in confusion in the bright light. It raised it snout toward the cold, starry sky and sniffed suspiciously. This time, the odd burst of laughter came from the officers standing outside, and they turned away their flashlights. It was way too cold for a badger to be out and about, so it simply turned around and lumbered back inside. It almost collided with the two officers in the doorway; they stepped aside and allowed the sleepy animal to return to its winter bed, then they came out and assured everyone that there were no human beings in the building.
Meanwhile, a van arrived and parked up on the road.
“The dogs are here,” the female officer stated.
“Great. Searching in the dark is impossible. They could be anywhere in the forest,” her colleague said.
The sound of excited barking could be heard as soon as the back door of the van was opened and the dogs realized it was time to work.
The fact that the thieves had managed to set fire to the car turned out to be a major problem. The dogs sniffed eagerly in and around the vehicle, but neither of them seemed able to pick up a viable trail. The smell of smoke was too strong, and had eradicated every other scent inside the car. Instead, the two dog handlers began moving outward from the BMW in circles. One of the German shepherds suddenly whimpered eagerly and started up the slope leading to Alfred Gärdes path. The tension rose among the search team, and they all headed away from the badger’s house and up toward the road. The second dog had started dragging its handler in the same direction at almost the same moment. Both dogs stopped in front of an old root cellar, well concealed behind a dense thicket of small fir trees. It was furnished with a new-looking, sturdy wooden door. Fresh marks could be seen around the metal hasp; it had been broken open with such force it was hanging by only one screw. The heavy padlock lay on the ground. The dogs got very excited and started watching the door.
“They’re hiding in there,” the female officer whispered.
She couldn’t hide the excitement in her voice. Her partner also felt the thrill of the chase. He crept over to the little door and stood to one side. Quietly he slipped the crowbar into the small gap by the broken lock. Every flashlight beam was directed at the door, and the officer in charge gave the signal to open it. The door swung wide open with a loud creak, and the light shone into the depths of the cellar.
There are moments when time simply stops. Even the dogs fell silent.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is the 7th and newest in the series featuring Inspector Irene Huss, head of the Violent Crimes Unit of the Goteborg police in the west of Sweden and former jujitsu champion more than 20 years ago (now past 40). It is February, and they have been enduring a very harsh winter (not unexpectedly). As the story opens, the police are in hot pursuit of a BMW automobile which had been reported stolen. As the policemen are chasing the car, they witness that same car as it hits a pedestrian, sending him crashing into the ground before it continues to speed along the roadway, leaving its victim lying where he landed. Ultimately, the ensuing investigation reveals that the dead man was a retired police officer known to most of the cops looking for the killers. And things only get worse from there: Shortly after this episode, the body of a young girl, perhaps twelve or thirteen years old, is discovered in a root cellar a short distance away, the body apparently having been there for several months. Her colleagues are still Superintendent Sven Andersson [62 and seriously overweight, with high blood pressure and asthma, now something of a lame duck, as he was about to move to the Cold Case Squad], and Tommy Persson, and Hanna Rauhala, with whom she was frequently partnered The story lines alternate between the crime-solving and Irene’s personal life, itself very interesting. Her home life centers around her gourmet chef husband and her twin daughters, now 19 years old and about to begin independent lives (always a challenge for the about-to-be empty-nest parents), and her mother, Gerd (77 years old and becoming more frail) and her 82-year-old significant other, Sture. As the investigation proceeds, there are indications that sex slavery is involved, and the Human Trafficking Unit joins the hunt. The head of that unit offers “The fact is that human trafficking today turns over more money than the narcotics trade.” The investigation takes Irene to Tenerife, where the body count rises precipitously. She is told “the demand from the clients rules the market. . . If they’re ready to pay, then everything is for sale, and I mean everything.” I loved the tip-of-the-hat given to the late Ed McBain and his 87th Precinct tales. The plot is somewhat complex, but no less interesting for that, and the writing is very good. Recommended.