Detective Joona Linna is on leave dealing with personal and professional issues when he gets pulled into the investigation of a horrific murder at a home for wayward teenage girls. One girl is dead, and another is missing. The local police want to close the case quickly, especially after they discover a bloody hammer under the missing girl's bed. But a woman claiming to see visions of the murdered girl insists there is more going on than meets the eye, and Joona is inclined to believe her. As he digs deeper into the case, he finds himself in dark and dangerous territory. This compelling thriller will have you turning pages long into the night.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Elisabet Grim is fifty--one years old and her hair is peppered with gray. She has cheerful eyes, and when she smiles you can see that one of her front teeth sticks out a little farther than the other.
Elisabet works as a nurse at the Birgitta Home, a children’s home north of Sundsvall. It’s privately run and takes girls between twelve and seventeen years of age.
Many of the girls have problems with drugs when they arrive, almost all have a history of self--harm and eating disorders, and several of them are very violent. For them, there aren’t really any alternatives to group homes with alarmed doors, barred windows, and airlocks. The next step is usually adult prison and compulsory psychiatric care, but the Birgitta Home is one of the few exceptions, offering girls a path back to society.
Elisabet likes to say that the Birgitta Home is where the good girls end up.
She picks up the last piece of dark chocolate, puts it in her mouth, and feels its blend of sweetness and bitterness tingle under her tongue.
Slowly, her shoulders start to relax. It’s been a difficult evening, even though the day started so well: lessons in the morning and swimming in the lake after lunch.
After dinner, the housekeeper went home, leaving Elisabet on her own.
The number of night staff was cut four months after the Blancheford Holding Company bought the place.
The residents had been allowed to watch television until ten. She had spent the evening in the nurses’ office, and was trying to catch up with her logs when she heard angry shouting. She hurried to the TV room, where she found Miranda attacking little Tuula, yelling that Tuula was a cunt and a whore, dragging her off the sofa, then kicking her in the back.
Elisabet is starting to get used to Miranda’s violent outbursts. She rushed in and pulled her away from Tuula, earning herself a blow to the face, and she had to shout at Miranda that this was clearly unacceptable behavior. Without any discussion, she led Miranda away along the corridor, to the isolation room.
Elisabet said good night, but Miranda didn’t answer. She just sat on the bed staring at the floor, and smiled to herself when Elisabet closed and locked the door.
The newest girl, Vicky Bennet, was booked for an evening conversation, but there was no time because of the trouble with Miranda and Tuula. Vicky tentatively pointed out that it was her turn and got upset when she was told it would have to be postponed. She smashed a cup, then slashed her stomach and wrists with one of the fragments.
When Elisabet came in, Vicky was sitting with her hands in front of her face, blood running down her arms. Elisabet cleaned the cuts, which turned out to be superficial, put gauze on her stomach, and bandaged her wrists, then sat and comforted her until she saw a little smile. For the third night in a row, she gave the girl ten milligrams of Sonata so that she’d get some sleep.
All the residents are asleep now, and the place is quiet. There’s a light on in the office window; the world outside seems impenetrable and black.
Elisabet is sitting in front of the computer, a deep frown on her face, writing up the evening’s events in the log.
It’s almost midnight, and she realizes that she hasn’t even found time to take her evening pill. Her little habit, she likes to joke. The combination of nights on call and exhausting day--shifts have ruined her sleep. She usually takes ten milligrams of Stilnoct at ten o’clock so that she can be asleep by eleven and get a few solid hours of rest.
The September darkness has settled on the forest, but the smooth surface of Himmel Lake is still visible, shining like mother--of--pearl.
At last, she can switch the computer off and take her pill. She pulls her cardigan tighter around herself and thinks about how nice a glass of red wine would be. She’d love to sit in bed with a book and a glass of wine, reading and talking to Daniel.
But she’s on call tonight and will be sleeping in the little overnight room.
She jumps when Buster starts barking out in the yard. He sounds so agitated that she gets goose bumps on her arms.
It’s late; she should be in bed.
The room gets darker when the computer shuts down. Everything seems incredibly quiet. Elisabet becomes aware of the sounds she’s making: the sigh of the office chair when she stands up, the tiles creaking as she walks over to the window. She tries to see outside, but the glass just reflects her own face and the inside of the office.
Suddenly, in the reflection, she sees the door slip open behind her.
Her heart starts to beat faster. The door was just ajar, but now it’s half open. There must be a draft, she tries to tell herself. The stove in the dining room always seems to pull in a lot of air.
Yet Elisabet feels peculiarly anxious, and fear starts to creep through her veins. She doesn’t dare turn around, just stares into the dark window at the reflection of the door behind her back.
She listens to the ticking of the computer.
In an attempt to shake off her unease, she reaches out her hand and switches off the lamp, then turns around.
Now the door is wide open.
A shiver runs down her spine.
The lights are on in the hallway leading to the dining room and the girls’ rooms. She’s just left the office, to make sure that the vents on the stove are closed, when she hears a whisper from the bedrooms.
Elisabet stands still, listening, as she looks out into the hallway. At first she can’t hear anything, but then there it is again. A slight whisper, so faint that it’s barely audible.
“It’s your turn to close your eyes,” the voice says.
Elisabet stands perfectly still, staring off into the darkness. She blinks several times but can’t see anyone there.
She is thinking that it must be one of the girls talking in her sleep when she hears a strange noise. It’s like someone dropping an overripe peach on the floor. And then another one. Heavy and wet. A table leg scrapes as it moves; then another two peaches fall to the floor.
Elisabet catches a glimpse of movement from the corner of her eye. A shadow slipping past. She turns around and sees that the door to the dining room is slowly swinging closed.
“Wait,” she says, even though she tells herself it was just the wind again.
She hurries over and grabs the handle but meets a peculiar resistance. There’s a brief tug--of--war, and then the door simply glides open.
Elisabet walks into the dining room very warily, trying to scan the area. The scratched table stands out in the darkness. She moves slowly toward the stove, sees her own movement reflected in its closed brass doors.
The flue is still radiating heat.
Suddenly there’s a crackling, knocking sound behind the oven doors. She takes a step back and bumps into a chair.
It’s only a piece of firewood falling against the inside of the doors. The room is completely empty.
She takes a deep breath and leaves the dining room, closing the door behind her. She starts to head back toward the hallway to the isolation room but stops again and listens.
She can’t hear anything from the girls’ rooms. There’s an acrid smell in the air—-metallic, almost. Though she looks for movement in the dark hallway, everything is still. Even so, she is drawn in that direction, toward the row of unlocked doors. Some of them seem to be ajar.
On the righthand side of the hall are the bathrooms, and then an alcove leading to the locked isolation room where Miranda is sleeping.
The peephole in the door glints gently.
Elisabet stops and holds her breath. A high voice is whispering something in one of the rooms but falls abruptly silent when Elisabet starts to move again.
“Quiet, now,” she says to the girls.
Her heart starts to beat harder when she hears a series of rapid thuds. It’s hard to localize them, but it sounds as if Miranda is lying in bed and kicking the wall with her bare feet. Elisabet is about to check on her through the peephole when she sees that there’s someone standing in the alcove.
She lets out a gasp and starts to back away. She feels as if she’s in a dream, as if she’s wading through water.
She immediately realizes how dangerous the situation is, but fear makes her slow.
She only thinks to run for her life when the floor creaks.
The figure in the darkness moves very quickly.
She turns and starts to run, hearing footsteps behind her. She slips on the rug and knocks her shoulder against the wall but keeps moving.
A soft voice is telling her to stop, but she doesn’t—-she runs, almost throwing herself down the hallway.
Doors fly open, then bounce back.
In panic, she rushes past the registration room, using the walls for support. A poster falls to the floor. She reaches the front door, fumbles, but manages to open it and run out into the cool night air; but she slips on the porch steps. One of her legs folds beneath her as she lands awkwardly on her hip. The stabbing pain from her ankle makes her yell out loud. She slumps to the ground, then hears heavy steps on the porch and starts to crawl away. She loses her shoes as she struggles to her feet with a whimper.
Reading Group Guide
Taking the page-turner to new heights, The Fire Witness has drawn thousands of captivated readers into the world of Swedish police detective Joona Linna (who is now under investigation himself). The third book in Lars Kepler's pulse-pounding series opens with a gruesome death at a home for troubled girls. When one of the patients escapes, leaving behind a bloody bed with a hammer under the pillow, the case seems to be solved. But Linna refuses to accept easy answers as he follows a trail of even more sinister evidenceultimately leading to a confrontation with the madman who destroyed Linna's family. As he tries to piece together the facts, Linna connects with a "medium" who falsely claims she can communicate with the dead. But when she begins receiving disturbing, all-too-real visions of the crime scene, the very essence of eyewitness testimony is turned on its head.
Brimming with provocative questions about the mind's eye and its power to heal and to destroy, The Fire Witness is sure to spark intriguing conversations. We hope that the following discussion topics will enrich your reading group's experience.
1. As you read the opening scenes, who was your first suspect? What did you think Elisabet had seen?
2. The authors define a medium as "someone who claims to have paranormal talent." Do you agree? Did Flora do any harm when she staged séances? What does her story indicate about the very real power of memory?
3. In The Fire Witness, how does evil come into being? What allows it to flourish?
4. Which is Linna's greater strength: his intellect or his empathy? Why do his mind and his heart also get him in trouble with authority?
5. In the opening scene, we learn that Elisabet often says, "It's the nice girls who end up here." What fears do the girls of Birgittagården have in common? What determines whether they will be drawn to someone like Tobias, who sees them as easy prey, or someone like Elin, who wants to protect them at any cost?
6. As Vicky's case was brought before a judge, whose testimony did you believe? How did your opinion of Vicky change throughout the novel?
7. Flora was failed by the many adults who were entrusted with caring for her. What did they hope to gain by making her a scapegoat? In punishing her and making her the target of their continual suspicion, how did they transform their own sense of reality, and her perception of herself?
8. When you discovered how Dennis became a refuge, what did this reveal about the connection between Vicky and her mother? What was her mother able to provide despite her hardships?
9. What was the killer's greatest advantage in gaining trust and staying above suspicion? Ultimately, what motivated these crimes? Who was responsible for them?
10. Discuss the novel's title and the horrific lie it refers to. How does Flora's childhood echo the experiences of other courageous witnesses captured in the novel?
11. Discuss the power struggles among the Birgittagården girls. How do they perpetuate the broken bonds they've experienced? Why was Elin successful in reaching past Vicky's pain?
12. How did the story line of Pia and Danteand the vulnerability of innocent bystandersaffect you?
13. Just as the novel's girls are separated from their families, Linna's daughter grows up without a father. Did Linna make the right decision in creating a new identity for Lumi and Summa? Would you have made the same choice?
14. As you read the closing scene, what did you predict for Jurek Walter? Linna thinks of him as the Devil: how is his evil different from what was revealed in this book? How does it underscore the past evil Linna has seen in The Hypnotist and The Nightmare?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The writing team that calls itself Lars Kepler has had two previously successful novels published in the United States: “The Hypnotist” and “The Nightmare.” This third in the series featuring Swedish detective Joona Linna, the intuitive, iconic investigator who goes his own way despite official restraints, undertakes a mystery despite being under the thumb of “reviewers from internal affairs and facing possible suspension, when a young girl is murdered in a home for disturbed females. Linna is allowed to travel to the murder site as “an observer,” allowing local police to conduct the inquiry. The crime is attributed to one of the inmates, who is found sleeping in her bed covered with blood and a bloodied hammer, suspected as the murder weapon, under her pillow. However, she runs away and steals a car with a baby sleeping in the back seat, so she now faces a kidnapping charge as well as homicide. The story progresses from that point, with Linna, his hands tied by official discipline, discovering more and more information, sometimes in unusual ways, including using a so-called psychic. The authors have written a tale that defies the reader to anticipate each development. And the translation is excellent, done by the same person who did the two previous books. The conclusion seems to provide the germ for the next novel in the series, to which we look forward. Highly recommended.
The bad thing about this authors books is that once I start I can't put it down. Lots of action and if you've read the first ones you will find out more about joona's family. Great read!,
Tightly drawn, with nonstop suspense.
The Fire Witness by Lars Kepler was first published in 2011 and has been published again in November 2018 by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard. Lars Kepler in the pseudonym used by married couple Alexander Ahndoril and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril. This is #3 in their Joona Linna series and it can easily stand alone if you have not read the previous books. However, this series is so intense that readers will enjoy reading everything by Lars Kepler. Joona Linna is a troubled detective in Sweden. He is called upon to observe the investigation of a double murder which takes place at a home for troubled teenage girls. A resident and a caretaker have been killed and a missing girl is believed to have committed the crimes. The detective is approached by a medium who claims to have been visited by the ghost of the murdered girl and Linna is intrigued by this. The story develops quickly but nothing is as it seems. This suspenful read will appeal to readers who enjoy murder mysteries with a twist. Thank you to Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group and NetGalley for the e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.
This review is only for the first few chapters. I hate reading stories in the present tense. It is so unpleasant that I couldn't even finish reading the sample chapters. It makes the story choppy and difficult reading, which is a shame because the plot description sounded intriguing.
Fast paced. Engrossing.
Love the pair, Lars Kepler! Love Joona Linna!
Another book of brilliance by Lars Kepler. The literary duo keeps us going (and at a fast pace) with new adventures of Joona Linna. A quick-paced, one chapter in and you're off thrill of mystery and suspense that'll leave you guessing. I've loved every book and am never let down. Can't wait til the next one.
"The Fire Witness" grabs you from page one!!! I didn't think the characters were too akward; however, I agree with the other post that there were a few too many awkward sexual encounters. Awkward sexual encounters aside, Lars Kepler keeps you turning pages the whole time by creating plot twists that I did not anticipate. In addition to the mystery, I was pleased that they weaved in a bit of the mystery behind Joona Lina. I cannot wait for the next book to come out. As usual, I enjoy the creepy suspense and thrills that Lars Kepler's books provide!!! If you enjoyed the other two, you should definitely read "The Fire Witness"!!!!
this book starts off great, per usual. and then it gets bogged down with awkward characters, even more awkward sexual encounters, and unnecessary - but well written - action sequences. i am surprised by the forced relationship/attraction between two of the characters. it is definitely a good read, but i was disappointed by what i felt were unnecessary characters. this duo (lars keeper is comprised of two anonymous authors, apparently) could have done more work weaving a more plausible tale or introducing more mystery/intrigue/suspense in other parts of the story before rushing it all in at the end. not as good as "the hypnotist."