Only the Dead: New Excerpt

Only the Dead by Vidar Sundstøl, translated from the Norwegian by Tiina Nunnally, is the second in the Minnestoa Trilogy of crime thrillers, and takes place in the wilderness amid a U.S. Forest Service officer's supicions of his own family 's involvement in a grisly murder (available September 1, 2014).

A Norwegian tourist has been found murdered on the shore of Lake Superior—right where an Ojibwe man may have been killed more than one hundred years earlier. Four months later, the official investigation is supposedly over but still not resolved, and U.S. Forest Service officer Lance Hansen, drawn into the mystery by his grisly discovery of the body, is uncovering clues disturbingly close to home.

His former father-in-law, Willy Dupree, may hold the key to the century-old murder of Swamper Caribou. And his own brother, Andy, might know more than he’s telling—more than he should know—about the recent homicide. The relationship between the brothers takes a dangerous turn as their annual deer hunt becomes a deadly game.

 

Chapter 1

His cell phone began silently vibrating in his pants pocket. Lance Hansen cautiously took it out and checked the display, but the number was not one he recognized. Just as cautiously he put the phone back. Then he again gripped his rifle with both hands.

It was sprinkling a bit, making a few rippling rings on the surface of the water. His cell was still vibrating. He wondered who could be calling him. At that moment he saw a buck emerge from the woods across the lake. It paused, its body erect and alert. A drop of water was forming at the tip of lance’s nose, but he didn’t want to risk wiping it off. The slightest movement might give him away. He concentrated on standing still, not even shifting his gaze. Through the light rain coming down over the lake, the deer looked like part of the landscape. Someone who was not observant would have had a very hard time noticing that it was standing there at all.

The deer turned its head to look back toward the woods. Quickly and silently Lance raised his rifle, took aim, and found the deer in his scope. All of a sudden it was very close. He could see how the damp was making the rough hairs of the outer coat stick together in patterns of darker stripes, and steam was rising from the animal’s warm body. But this was not a large buck, and when it again turned its head, he saw that its antlers were small and asymmetrical.

As soon as he lowered his rifle, the deer froze. Then it disappeared, bounding away with long, springy strides. The last he saw of it was the raised white tail.

His cell phone had stopped vibrating. He wiped the drop from his nose. The branches of the tall maple trees down by the mouth of the creek were bare. Here and there a solitary yellow leaf still clung to a birch twig. The puddles on the boggy ground had thick layers of rotting leaves on the bottom. Twice before he had brought down a deer at Copper Pond, as the small lake was called. Both times he had stood partially hidden behind the very same shaggy fir tree. From here he had a clear shot across the water, with no obstructing bushes or trees. it was approximately a hundred yards to the spot where the deer usually came out of the woods.

He glanced at his watch. They would have to stop soon if they were going to get back to their cars before dark. Somewhere in the woods over there, his brother, Andy, was on his way toward the lake. He was supposed to call before he showed up. That was how they made sure that the person doing the driving didn’t end up in the line of fire. As long as the driver hadn’t called, the poster was free to shoot at any deer that appeared. As soon as the driver called to say he was approaching, all shooting was banned. That was also why they couldn’t take calls from anyone else. If they did, they risked getting a busy signal when they tried to phone each other. This was the new system they’d improvised af- ter Lance, much to his surprise, had discovered earlier in the morning that the walkie-talkies they always used were not in their usual place in the garage. There was no sign of a break-in, and it had been a long time since he’d last checked their communications equipment, so he decided he must have moved them himself and then forgotten about it. at any rate, there had been no time to get hold of new walkie-talkies.

Again he focused his attention on the edge of the woods across the lake. He studied one small patch at a time be- fore moving his gaze to another area. The overriding grays and browns of the november landscape made it difficult to catch sight of a deer. It was a matter of keeping out extraneous thoughts and simply scanning his surroundings, on the lookout for the arch of a neck or the sway of a back among all the other organic shapes in the woods.

After a moment he glanced at his watch again, but only ten minutes had passed. Since dusk would settle in soon, he decided he’d better try calling his brother.

When the phone had rung five or six times, Lance realized that he wasn’t going to get an answer. Even so, he let it keep ringing. Presumably Andy was closing in on a deer. The driver usually walked with the wind at his back in order to scare the animals forward toward the hunter waiting on post, but today there was no wind. The light rain was falling straight down. Under these circumstances it was possible to sneak up on a deer, and his brother was an expert at doing just that. He could move so quietly that not even a deer could hear him.

After Lance had stood there for another five minutes without hearing anything from his brother, he decided to call it a day. He might as well go back to the cars and wait there. That was the usual procedure if they couldn’t find each other.

He slung the strap of his rifle over his shoulder and began heading toward the south end of the lake, where the creek ran out of it. Crossing the boggy ground took some effort. He was a heavy man, and for every step he took, he had to drag his feet up from the gurgling muck. When he reached the mouth of the creek, he sat down on a rock. He sat there in the rain, breathing hard. above him the naked gray branches of the maple trees stretched toward the rainy sky. The drops were falling faster now, a pattering cold rain. He noticed that steam was rising off him, just as it had from the body of the deer he’d taken aim at only a short time ago.

Then he got to his feet and started walking along the creek, which passed through a culvert beneath the road, right near their parked cars. it shouldn’t take more than ten minutes for him to get there. Spruce trees stood close together on either side, creating a semidarkness filled with the sound of running water. At one spot he had to descend a steep, muddy slope near a little waterfall. The ground was slippery, and he slid rather than clambered down to the pool at the base of the waterfall. There he crouched down next to the creek and rinsed off his mud-covered hands. The temperature had dropped so low that he didn’t notice any significant difference when he stuck his hands in the water. as he stood up, he saw something move in the woods, may- be twenty yards away. Only for a second, a glimpse of something dark.

Copyright © 2014 Vidar Sundstøl

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Vidar Sundstøl is the acclaimed Norwegian author of seven novels, including the internationally best-selling Minnesota Trilogy, which he wrote after living on the North Shore of Lake Superior for two years. The first volume of the series, The Land of Dreams (Minnesota, 2013), was nominated for the Glass Key for best Scandinavian crime novel of the year.

Comments

  1. jackie crawford

    very suspicious story, suspenseful and intriguing. I like it! I felt the thrill of taking a blackbuck hunting while reading it. Just like teh excitement what http://www.huntingtexastrophies offers.

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