Prologue

November 20th, 1997

She saw grey hues everywhere. Flickering shadows and gentle darkness covered her like a blanket and kept her warm.

In a dream, she had left her body, hovering in the air like a bird. No, even better, like a butterfly. Like a multicolored fluttering piece of art, put in the world only to spread happiness and wonder. Like a hovering being high up between heaven and earth whose magic dust could awaken the world to endless love and happiness.

She smiled at the thought. It was so beautiful and pure.

Now the ceaseless darkness above her fought with dim glints like distant stars. It felt good, almost like a pulse conducting the sound of wind and rustling leaves.

She couldn’t move at all but she didn’t want to anyway or she’d wake from the dream, and reality would suddenly kick in, and then the pain would come and who would want that?

Now a myriad of images appeared from life-giving times. Small glimpses of her and her brother hopping out over the sand dunes, parents shouting that they should stop. Stop!

Why was it always stop? Wasn’t it there in the dunes that she’d felt free for the first time?

She smiled as beautiful beams of light slid under her like streams of mareel. Not that she had ever seen the milky sea effect before, but it must be like that. Mareel or liquid gold in deep valleys.

Where was it she’d come to?

Wasn’t it a thought of freedom? Yes, that must be it because she’d never felt as free as she did just now. A butterfly that was simply its own master. Light and inquisitive with beautiful people around who didn’t tell her off. Creative hands in all directions, pushing her forward and only wishing the best for her. Songs that lifted her and which had never been sung before.

She sighed momentarily and smiled. Allowed her thoughts to take her everywhere and nowhere all at once.

Then she remembered school and the bike, the icy cold morning and not least her chattering teeth.

And just in that moment, when reality rushed in, and her heart finally gave up, she also remembered the crack when the car hit her, the sound of bones breaking, the branches of the tree that caught her, the meeting that . . .


Chapter 1

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

“Hey, Carl. Wake up. The telephone is ringing again.”

Carl looked up sleepily at Assad, who was camouflaged like a yellow parade. When he’d started in the morning, the overalls had been white and his curly hair black, so if there was even a splash of paint on the walls it would be a miracle.

“You interrupted me right in the middle of a complicated train of thought,” said Carl, reluctantly taking his legs off the table.

“Okay! Sorry!” The wrinkles of a smile appeared under the jungle of Assad’s nine o’clock stubble. What the heck was it his happy round eyes expressed? A hint of irony, perhaps?

“Yeah, I know it was a late one for you yesterday, Carl,” continued Assad. “But Rose goes nuts when you let the telephone ring all the time. So could you please just get it next time?”

Carl turned toward a glaring light from the basement window. A little cigarette smoke should put an end to that problem, he thought, reaching out for the pack and slamming his feet back up on the table as the telephone started ringing again.

Assad pointed at it insistently and slid out of the door. It was turning into a hell of a situation with those two loudmouths jabbering at him incessantly.

“Carl,” he said, yawning, with the receiver resting on the table.

“Hello!” came from below.

He took the receiver up to his mouth with his arm limp. “Who am I talking with?”

“Is that Carl Mørck?” said a voice in the lilting dialect of Bornholm.

Definitely not one of the dialects that did it for Carl. It was like bad Swedish with some grammatical errors, and no use anywhere except on the small island in the Baltic.

“Yes, I’m Carl Mørck. Isn’t that what I just said?”

The sound of a sigh came from the other end. It almost sounded like relief.

“This is Christian Habersaat. We met each other a lifetime ago but you probably don’t remember me.”

Habersaat? Carl thought. From Bornholm?

Carl hesitated. “Yeeah, I . . .”

“I served at the police station in Nexø when you and a superior were over here some years ago to escort a prisoner to Copenhagen.”

Carl racked his brain. He remembered the prison escort well enough, but Habersaat?

“Oh, right,” he said, reaching over for the cigarettes.

“Yes, sorry for disturbing you but maybe you’ve got time to hear me out? I’ve read that you’ve just solved the complicated case in the circus at Bellahøj. My compliments, although it must feel frustrating when the culprit commits suicide before the trial.”

Carl shrugged. Rose had been frustrated about it but Carl couldn’t give a damn. It was just one less asshole in the world to worry about.

“Okay, but you aren’t calling because of that case, are you?” He lit the cigarette and tilted his neck back. It was only one thirty. Far too early to have used up his daily ration of cigarettes, which meant he should probably increase it.

“Yes and no. I’m calling about that case and everything else that you’ve so impressively solved in the last couple of years. As I said, I serve with the Bornholm Police and am currently sitting in Rønne, but I’m retiring tomorrow, thank God.” He tried to laugh. It sounded forced. “Times have changed so it’s not very exciting to be me anymore. No doubt we all feel the same but only ten years ago I was the guy who knew everything about what was happening on most of the mid- and east coast island districts. Yeah, you could say that’s why I’m calling.”

Carl let his head fall. If this guy wanted to convince them to take on a case, he needed to nip this in the bud immediately. He certainly didn’t want to get involved with anything connected to an island where the specialty was smoked herring and which was closer to Poland, Sweden, and Germany than Denmark.

“Are you calling because you want us to look into something for you? Because if that’s the case, then I’m afraid I’ll need to direct you to our colleagues on one of the floors above us. We’ve got far too much to do down here in Department Q.”

It went quiet on the other end of the line. Then the caller hung up.

Carl stared in bewilderment at the receiver before slamming it down. If the guy was so touchy, then he damn well didn’t deserve any better.

Shaking his head, he’d hardly managed to close his eyes before the stupid thing rang again.

Carl took a deep breath. Some people really needed it hammered home for them.

Yes!” he shouted into the receiver. Maybe that would scare the idiot into hanging up again.

“Err, Carl? Is that you?” It wasn’t the voice he’d expected to hear. He frowned. “Mom, is that you?” he asked tentatively.

“I get really frightened when you holler like that! Do you have a sore throat, sweetie?”

Carl sighed. It had been more than thirty years since he’d left home. Since then he’d dealt with violent criminals, pimps, arsonists, murderers, and rows of bodies in all manner of degrees of decomposition. He’d been shot at. His jaw had been broken along with his wrist, and he’d lost his private life and all the respectable ambitions inherent to anyone from Northern Jutland. It had been thirty years since he flew the nest and finally told himself that he was in charge of his own life. Parents were people you could choose to deal with or ignore as you pleased. So how the hell was it possible that she could make him feel like a baby with just a single sentence?

Carl rubbed his eye and sat up a little in his chair. This was going to be a long, long day.

“No, Mom, I’m okay. We’ve got workmen in, so you can’t hear yourself think.”

“Right, well I’m calling you with some very sad news.”

Carl pressed his lips together and tried to gauge her tone. Did she sound sad? Was she about to tell him in a second that his dad was dead? After he hadn’t been home to visit them in more than a year?

“Is Dad dead?” he asked.

“Goodness gracious me! Certainly not. He’s sitting here beside me drinking a coffee. He’s just been out to the stable to dock the piglets. No, it’s your cousin Ronny.”
At that Carl took his legs down from the table.

“Ronny? Dead? How?”

“He collapsed suddenly out in Thailand while having a massage. Isn’t it terrible news on such a beautiful spring day?”

In Thailand, she said, and during a massage. Well, what else could you expect?

Carl searched for an appropriate answer. It wasn’t really something that came naturally to him.

“Terrible, yes,” he managed to say while trying to repress a horrible image of the presumably very comfortable end of his cousin’s bulk.

“Sammy is flying out in the morning to collect him and his things. Best to get everything home before it’s spread to the four winds,” she said. “Sammy is always so practical.”

Carl nodded. There would probably be a thorough appraisal when Ronny’s brother stepped in. The crap in one pile and anything of any worth in the suitcase.

He imagined Ronny’s faithful wife. A stalwart little Thai woman, in fact, who deserved better. But by the time Ronny’s brother had searched through the drawers, there wouldn’t be much left for her other than the boxers with Chinese dragons. That was the way of the world.

“Ronny was married, Mom. I don’t think Sammy can count on just coming and taking what he wants without so much as asking.”

She laughed. “Oh, you know Sammy. It’ll be fine. And he’s going to stay out there for ten to twelve days. You might as well get a bit of color in your cheeks when you’re travelling so far anyway, he says. And he isn’t wrong there. He’s a smart man, Cousin Sammy.”

Carl nodded. The only significant difference between Ronny and his little brother Sammy was a single vowel and three consonants. Nobody living north of the Limfjord could miss that they were related because they were like peas in a pod. If there was a film producer in need of a bragging, self-obsessed, absolutely untrustworthy show-off in a garish shirt, at least Sammy was still available.

“They’ve set the date of the funeral for Saturday, May 10th, here in Brønderslev. It’ll be wonderful to see you up here again, son,” continued his mom. While the predictable update of the day-to-day life of a country family from Vendsyssel was rattled off, with particular stress on pig farming mixed with his dad’s dodgy hip, the usual censure of politicians in Parliament and some other similarly depressing talk, Carl was thinking about the unpleasant tone of Ronny’s last e-mail to him.

That e-mail had undoubtedly been meant as a threat, something that had unsettled and frustrated Carl. After a while he came to the conclusion that Ronny intended to blackmail him with the nonsense. Wasn’t his cousin exactly the type who would do that? And wasn’t he always short of cash?

Carl didn’t like it. Would he now have to deal with that ridiculous claim again? It was utter drivel. But when you lived in the land of Hans Christian Andersen you knew only too well how quickly a little feather could turn into five hens. And five hens of this sort, in his position of trust and with a boss like Lars Bjørn, was really something he could do without.

Damn it, what had Ronny been up to? On numerous occasions the idiot had blurted out that he’d murdered his dad, which was bad enough in itself. But worse was that he’d dragged Carl into the dirt by publicly declaring that Carl had been an accomplice to murdering Ronny’s dad during a fishing trip, and in the ominous last e-mail had informed Carl that he’d put it in writing as a book and would be attempting to get it published.
Carl hadn’t heard anything since then, but it was a terrible situation that needed to be laid to rest now that the man was dead.

Carl fumbled again for the cigarettes. Without doubt he should go to the funeral. It would be the place to find out if Sammy had been successful in getting Ronny’s wife to surrender some of the inheritance. Similar inheritance cases out East had ended violently, and of course one could hope that might happen again. But Ronny’s wife, little what’s-her-face, seemed to be made from another and better mold. She’d probably keep anything of financial value that belonged to her and give up the rest. And that might include Ronny’s alleged attempt at a literary career.

No, it wouldn’t surprise him at all if Sammy succeeded in getting the notes home with him. And if so, then he’d better get his hands on them first before they made the family rounds.

“Did you know that Ronny was really rich in the end, Carl?” chirped his mother somewhere in the background.

Carl raised his eyebrows. “Really, was he now? We’ll have to assume he was dealing in drugs, then. And you’re sure he didn’t end up with his head in a noose behind the thick prison walls of the Thai justice system?”

She laughed. “Oh, Carl. You’ve always been such a funny child.”

Twenty minutes after the conversation with the Bornholm policeman, Rose stood in the doorway waving away Carl’s tobacco smoke with obvious disgust.

“Have you just spoken with a Sergeant Habersaat, Carl?”

He shrugged. It wasn’t exactly the conversation he was thinking about most just now. God only knew what Ronny had written about him.

“Take a look at this.” She threw a piece of paper on the table in front of him.

“I got this e-mail two minutes ago. You might just want to call the man?”

There were two sentences on the printout that brought the mood in the office down even further for the rest of the day.

Department Q was my final hope. I can’t take anymore.

C. Habersaat

Carl looked at Rose, who stood shaking her head like a harpy who’d given up on her marriage. He didn’t like the attitude at all but it was best that way with Rose. Better to receive a couple of slaps around the face in silence than two minutes of complaining and hassle. That’s how it worked between them, and Rose was good enough when it came down to it. Even if you did sometimes have to go very far down to get to it.

“Well, whattaya know! But seeing as it was you who got the e-mail, Rose, you deal with the mess. Then afterward you can tell me what you managed to get out of it.”

She screwed up her nose, causing her war paint to crack. “Like I didn’t know you’d say that. That’s why I called him right away, of course, but I got an answering machine.”

“Hmmm. Well then I assume that you left a message saying you’d call back, right?”

As she confirmed that she’d done just that, a black cloud formed over her head, and stayed there.

She’d apparently called five times, but the man just didn’t answer.

*******

This is an excerpt from THE HANGING GIRL, reprinted with the permission of Penguin Random House and the author. Jussi Adler-Olsen’s THE HANGING GIRL publishes in paperback on December 27, 2016. For more information visit JussiAdlerOlsen.com.

JUSSI ADLER-OLSEN is Denmark’s #1 crime writer and a New York Times bestseller. His books routinely top the bestseller lists in Europe and have sold more than fifteen million copies around the world. His many prestigious Nordic crime-writing awards include the Glass Key Award, also won by Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbø, Stieg Larsson, and Peter Høeg.

 

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