Extract from The Rabbit Hunter by Lars Kepler

Category: Extract

First you hear a nursery rhyme. Nineteen minutes later you die…

On the 3rd May, get ready to be terrified by The Rabbit Hunter, the brand new Joona Linna thriller from international bestselling author Lars Kepler. To give you a taste of the excitement to come, here’s the first chapter, but be warned, we would recommend not reading this at night…

 

 

It’s early morning, and the still water of the inlet is shimmering like brushed steel. The luxurious villas are asleep, but outdoor lights glint behind tall fences and hedges.

A drunk man is walking along the road by the shore, a bottle of wine in his hand. He stops in front of a white house whose elongated façade faces the water. Very carefully, he puts the bottle down in the middle of the road, steps across the ditch, and climbs the black metal railing.

The man weaves his way across the lawn, then stops and sways as he stares at the big windows, the reflections of the patio lights, the indistinct outline of the furniture inside.

He heads towards the house, waving at a large, porcelain garden gnome, and then stumbles out onto the wooden deck. He manages to hit one knee, but keeps his balance.

The water of the pool shines like a blue sheet of glass.

The man stands unsteadily on the edge, unzips his trousers and starts to urinate into the pool, then weaves his way over to the navy-blue garden furniture and proceeds to soak the cushions, chairs and round table.

Steam rises from his urine in the chill air.

He zips up his trousers and watches a white rabbit as it hops across the lawn and disappears under a bush.

Smiling, he walks back towards the house, leaning against the fence. He makes his way down to the lawn, then stops and turns around.

His befuddled brain tries to make sense of what he just saw. A black-clad figure with a strange face was staring at him.

Either the person was standing inside the dark house, or was outside, watching him in the reflection.

 

1

Summer

 

Drizzle is falling from the dark sky. The city lights glow high above the rooftops. There’s no wind, and the illuminated drops form a misty dome that covers Djursholm.

Beside the still waters of Germaniaviken 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 plaster is stuck to the long fringe of the carpet.

The floor creaks, as if someone is 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 football two years ago.

Sofia keeps the pepper spray in her hand hidden from the man waiting for her. She keeps telling herself that she has chosen this situation. 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, but she has a youthful plump- ness 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 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 with 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 out 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 ponder- ously, like an old man in his old home.

‘You took a taxi here?’ he asks, and swallows hard. ‘Yes,’ she replies.

They fall silent again. The clock in the next room strikes twice with a brittle clang.

Some saffron-coloured pollen falls silently from a lily in a vase.

Sofia realised 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 grey-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 towards 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 electric shock therapy, but he was a wonderful artist.’

‘Fascinating,’ she replies quietly.

‘I think so,’ the man says, then walks towards the dining room. Sofia follows him even though she feels like she is being lured into a trap. It’s as if the way out is closing behind her with

sluggish slowness, cutting off her escape route little by little.

The huge room is furnished with upholstered chairs and highly polished cupboards. There are rows of leaded windows looking out across the water.

She sees two glasses of red wine on the edge of the oval dining table.

‘Can I offer you a glass of wine?’ he asks, turning back towards 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 towards 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 a 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 towards the front door if anything happened. She’s more agile than him, and if she were to run, leaving her coat hanging where it is, she’d be able to get out.

She stands in the kitchen door as he takes a bottle of Bollinger from a wine fridge. He opens it and fills two slender glasses, waits for the bubbles to settle and then tops them up before walking over to her.

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman – guest post by Christi Daugherty

Category: Uncategorized

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman

I was a university student when I decided what I wanted to do for a living. It came to me at two in the morning. I watched All The President’s Men on the tiny TV in my Texas dormitory, and saw my future on the screen. I would be a newspaper reporter.

During my last month at university I applied to 40 newspapers in the southern US for a job as a journalist. One, the Morning News, in Savannah, Georgia, hired me over the phone.

I’d never been to Georgia in my life, but I couldn’t wait to get started. I was hired as the crime reporter. I had little idea what that would entail, but it sounded like something Woodward and Bernstein would have done when they were my age.

My first day, a body was found floating in the Savannah River. I was sent to cover it. I wore the clothes my mother had bought for me – white ankle trousers, a floaty pink top, little heels.

In that outfit, I had to hike a quarter mile through spiked weeds on uneven ground down an earthen levee to the distant point where the police had gathered at the water’s edge.

By the time I reached them, I was sweating, my always uncontrollable hair a dark cloud. My pink top had caught on a thorny plant and torn. My little heels were filthy.

Two detectives stood alongside a cluster of uniformed officers and two divers in wetsuits. Every single one of them was male. Hell, even the corpse was male.

I could hear the cops laughing before I reached the muddy shore.

‘Can I help you?’ the detective asked, fighting a grin as I approached.

‘I’m the new reporter at the Morning News,’ I explained, trying not to look flustered.

‘Well,’ he said, glancing at the men around him. ‘This is our lucky day.’

They all openly checked me out. My figure. My face. My clothes. The uniformed cops snickered behind their hands and whispered comments I couldn’t quite hear.

The whole time, the body lay behind them. Very obviously and horribly dead. It was a hot summer afternoon. The smell was absolutely overwhelming.

In that instant, I wanted to run back up that levee and keep running until I got back to Texas. Back to my mother’s house. Back where I belonged.

But I stood my ground. I sensed, through some preternatural journalistic instinct, that a lot hung on that moment.

What I didn’t know at the time, was that the detective making fun of me was the head of the homicide squad. If I impressed him, my entire job was made.

Win over the lead detective and he’ll tell you things no one else will. Slip you information that can help you beat the competition. Make your editors happier. Make your job safer. Get you a raise.

I didn’t know any of that, at the time. To me, he was some paunchy, old man with bad glasses in a cheap suit making fun of me on my first day.

And yet. For some reason, I didn’t run. I got out my notepad, summoned all the dignity I could muster, and said, ‘What can you tell me about the body?’

Grinning broadly, the detective stepped aside, gesturing at the bloated corpse and replied, ‘Well he’s right there. What can you tell me about the body?’

Clearly, he’d noticed I’d been doing my level best not to look. My stomach was churning.

Still. I looked.

Rigor mortis had set in while the man was face down in the water. They’d rested him on his back. His arms reached up stiffly as if he wanted a hug. Dark green river weed dangled from his fingertips.

‘He’s a middle-aged black man, in a striped, short-sleeved shirt and khaki slacks,’ I said, writing as I talked. ‘His shoes are missing.’

I didn’t need to write it down – I would never forget it – but it gave me an excuse not to look for a second. When I didn’t look, I could breathe.

‘Shoes always fall off,’ the detective informed me. ‘Probably lost them when he hit the water. Tell me, something. You think he fell in there today?’

‘No. I think he’s been in there a while,’ I said. ‘But don’t ask me how long.’

‘I won’t ask you,’ he said, pointing up the levee. ‘I’ll ask them.’

I turned to see a forensic team hotfooting it towards us, carrying bags of equipment.

The detective walked past me to greet the medical team. At the last second, though, he stopped.

‘What’s your name?’ he said.

‘Christi Daugherty,’ I told him.

‘Welcome to town. You’ll do fine.’ And he handed me his card.

It was only a cheap business card with his name and the main police phone number on it. But to me it was gold dust.

I’d passed a test.

Now I understood what I was up against. The job would be hard. It would challenge me.

And I could handle it.

I was a journalist for a decade before writing my first novel. When people ask me why I write about women doing jobs that have been, in the past, traditionally male; or why I so often write about women who learn to be stronger than they think they are; or why my characters fight against odds that seem insurmountable – I think about that day.

They say you should write what you know.

Well, I don’t know any women who don’t fight against the odds.

 

The Echo Killing by Christi Daugherty is out now!

Guest post by Stella Duffy, author of Money in the Morgue.

Category: Author Post

Stella Duffy on growing up in New Zealand, her feminist father, and why she’s pleased Money in the Morgue will be published on International Women’s Day…

      

Stella Duffy photographed by Gino Sprio

 

I grew up in Tokoroa, a small town in New Zealand. We moved there when I was five from a council estate in Woolwich, south London, and even though my dad was returning to the home he had left at the start of the war in 1939, both of my parents were economic migrants making a new life in the late 60s and ’70s. Very occasionally, when people hear I spent my childhood in New Zealand, they trot out the tired line about New Zealand being ‘like England in the fifties’. I don’t know where they’ve visited, but they can’t be talking about the vibrant, multi-cultural community in which I grew up. They can’t be talking about the nation that had universal suffrage decades before the UK or the nation that invented the welfare state. All the same, there are some clichés that persist, and the kiwi man as a Neanderthal sexist is certainly one of them

My dad was a bloke. He was a traditional, left wing, union-man, bloke. He had to leave school at 14 (no money), he joined the New Zealand air force at 18 (it was WW2 and he chose to fight fascism) and was a Prisoner of War for almost four and a half years. He was part of a generation of young men who suffered terribly throughout the war and had no support at all when war was over. I’m the youngest of seven children and to say our father was damaged by his war experiences – and that the damage was inflicted on us too – would be putting it mildly. And yet …

He made a great stew. He did the dishes after every meal. He believed women were as valuable and as capable as men. He told me as a child, “Don’t get married early, don’t have children early, have your life, travel, do what YOU want to do.” My parents were 41 when I was born, from an older generation than most of my friends’ parents, but – perhaps because they had both had bad wars, as working class people so often do – they were much more political, thoughtful than many of my mates’ parents who were a good twenty years younger. My mother worked full time (she had to, we were poor), and their example – of working hard at whatever you do, of valuing local community, of speaking up about injustice and unfairness, has been hugely important throughout my life.

I’ve often tried to work out why my father seemed more of a feminist than many men his age and younger, why he did a share – not 50%, but a sizeable share – of the housework, why he simply assumed that I would work in any field I chose, whether they were traditional female roles or not. One of the reasons is that he grew up in New Zealand in the 20s and 30s. He grew up in a society that had given the vote to women in 1883, and not merely partial suffrage as we’re celebrating this year in the UK. His own mother was a force to be reckoned with, inheriting a pub at the age of 21 when her parents died in the flu epidemic. My father’s brother became a sheep farmer, and his sister and brother-in-law had a dairy farm – both of my aunts worked on their farms, as farming women always have done. New Zealand women, the women of Aotearoa – Maori and Pakeha (white) women – were strong and present in the fight for suffrage, in the birth of the welfare state, in the nation’s economy.

Stepping into Ngaio Marsh’s shoes with Money in the Morgue has given me a chance to revisit those people, the forthright women, the hard-working men, the ‘characters’ of my childhood and my family. Marsh loved London and England, she was of a class and generation that still sometimes called England ‘Home’, but her love of the land and the people that formed her is clear in her work. As a huge writing success in the UK and USA and in translation, and dividing her working life between writing and theatre, she was very much an ‘international woman’. In my own work as a writer, theatremaker and equalities campaigner (for both the Women’s Equality Party and Fun Palaces, the campaign for cultural democracy I co-founded in 2013), I welcome the example of women like Marsh – stepping up and creating their own work, refusing to be limited to just one field of endeavour, as easy with a group of young artists as with equally successful peers.

There is a huge amount of work still to be done towards genuine equality, for women, for women of colour, for women living in poverty, for everyone living at the intersections of disadvantage. International Women’s Day gives us a chance to remember this and to look to our foremothers for inspiration. I love that Money in the Morgue is published on IWD, which also just happens to be my dad’s birthday. He’s been dead thirty years, but I think he’d approve of the young soldiers I wrote into the story, blokes doing their bit – alongside some amazing women, doing theirs.

Money in the Morgue is out on the 8th March.