Lars Kepler


The fifth book in the Detective Inspector Joona Linna series, 2016

Copyright © Lars Kepler 2014

Translation copyright © Neil Smith 2016

It wasn’t until the first body was found that anyone took the film seriously. A link to a video clip on YouTube had been sent to the public email address of the National Criminal Investigation Department. The email contained no message, and the sender was impossible to trace. The police administration secretary did her job, followed the link, watched the film, and assumed it was a rather baffling joke, but nonetheless entered it in the records.

Two days later three experienced detectives gathered in a small room on the eighth floor of National Crime headquarters in Stockholm, as a result of that very film. The oldest of the three men was sitting on a creaking office chair while the other two stood behind him.

The clip they were watching on the wide computer monitor was only fifty-two seconds long.

The shaky footage, filmed in secret on a handheld camera through her bedroom window, showed a woman in her thirties putting on a pair of black tights.

The three men at National Crime watched the woman’s peculiar movements in embarrassed silence.

To get the tights to sit comfortably she took long strides over imaginary obstacles and did several squats with her legs wide apart.

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 the white orchid in its pot. She was wearing nothing but a pair of tights and a bra.

The forensic post-mortem later that week concluded that she bled to death as a result of the 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 a study of a patient suffering from erotomania. This case is widely regarded as the first modern analysis of a stalker. Today a stalker is someone who suffers from obsessive fixation disorder, an unhealthy obsession with monitoring another individual’s activities.

Almost 10 per cent of the population will be subjected to some form of stalking in the course of their lifetime.

The most common form is when the stalker has or used to have a relationship with the victim, but in a striking number of cases when the fixation is focused on strangers or people in the public eye, coincidence is a key factor.

Even though the vast majority of cases never require intervention, the police treat the phenomenon seriously because the pathological obsessiveness of a stalker brings with it a self-generating potential for danger. Just as rolling clouds between areas of high and low pressure during stormy weather can suddenly change and turn into a tornado, a stalker’s emotional lurches between worship and hatred can suddenly become extremely violent.


It’s quarter to nine on Friday, 22 August. After the magical sunsets and light nights of high summer, darkness is encroaching with surprising speed. It’s already dark outside the glass atrium of the National Police Authority.

Margot Silverman gets out of the lift and walks towards the security doors in the foyer. She’s wearing a black wrap cardigan, a white blouse that fits tightly at the chest, and high-waisted black trousers that stretch across her expanding stomach.

She makes her way without hurrying towards the revolving doors in the glass wall. The guard sits behind the wooden counter with his eyes on a screen. Surveillance cameras monitor every section of the large complex round the clock.

Margot’s hair is the colour of pale, polished birchwood, and is pulled into a thick plait down her back. She is thirty-six years old and pregnant for the third time, glowing, with moist eyes and rosy cheeks.

She’s heading home after a long working week. She’s worked overtime every day, and has received two warnings for pushing herself too hard.

She is the National Police Authority’s new 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 as detective superintendent.

There are no witnesses and no suspects. The victim was single, had no children, worked as a product advisor for Ikea, and had taken on her parents’ unmortgaged terraced house after her father died and her mother went into care.

Maria usually travelled to work with a colleague of a morning. Since she wasn’t waiting down on Kyrkvägen, her colleague drove to her house and rang the doorbell, looked through the windows, then walked round the back and saw her. She was sitting on the floor, her face covered in knife-wounds, her neck almost sliced right through, her head lolling to one side and her mouth grotesquely open.

According to the preliminary report from the forensic post-mortem, there was evidence to suggest that her mouth had been arranged after death, even if it was theoretically possible that it had settled into that position of its own accord.

Rigor mortis starts in the heart and diaphragm, but is evident in the neck and jaw after two hours.

This late on a Friday evening the large foyer is almost deserted, aside from two police officers in dark-blue sweaters who are standing talking, and a tired-looking prosecutor emerging from one of the rooms dedicated to custody negotiations.

When Margot was appointed head of the preliminary investigation she was conscious of the pitfalls of being overambitious; she knew she had a tendency to be too eager, too willing to think on a grand scale.

Her colleagues would have laughed at her if she’d told them at the outset she was absolutely convinced they were dealing with a serial killer.

Over the course of the week Margot Silverman has watched the video of Maria Carlsson putting her tights on more than two hundred times. All the evidence suggests that she was murdered shortly after the recording was uploaded to YouTube.

Margot has tried to interpret the short film, but can’t see anything special about it. It’s not unusual for people to have a fetish about tights, but nothing about the murder indicates any inclination of that nature.

The film is simply a brief excerpt from an ordinary woman’s life. She’s single, has a good job, and has almost completed a course of evening classes on drawing cartoons.

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 film, so there has to be a reason for this.

Given that he’s sent the link to the police, he must want to show them something.

The perpetrator wants to highlight something about this particular woman, or a certain type of woman. Perhaps it’s about all women, the whole of society.

But to Margot’s eyes there’s nothing unusual about the woman’s behaviour or appearance. She’s simply concentrating on getting her tights to sit properly, frowning and pursing her lips.

Margot has visited the house on Bredablicksvägen twice, but she’s spent most of her time examining the forensic video of the crime scene before it was contaminated.

The perpetrator’s film almost looks like a lovingly created work of art in comparison to the police’s. The forensics team’s minutely detailed recording of the evidence of the bestial attack 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 is hanging down towards the bulge of her stomach. There’s almost nothing left of her face, just a gaping mouth and red pulp.

Margot stops as if by chance beside the fruit bowl on the table by the sofas, looks over at the guard, who is talking on the phone, then turns her back on him. For a few seconds she watches the guard’s reflection in the glass wall facing the large inner courtyard, before taking six apples from the bowl and putting them in her bag.

Six is too many, she knows that, but she can’t stop herself taking them all. It’s occurred to her that Jenny might like to make an apple pie that evening, with lots of butter, cinnamon and sugar to caramelise them.

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 Klarastrandsvägen,’ Margot lies. ‘What did you want to tell me?’

‘He’s uploaded a new film.’

She feels her stomach clench, and puts one hand under the heavy bulge.

‘A new film,’ she repeats.

‘Are you coming back?’

‘I’ll stop and turn round,’ she says, and begins to retrace her steps. ‘Make sure we get a decent copy of the recording.’

Margot could have carried on out through the doors and gone home, leaving the case in Adam’s hands. It wo ...

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