The Mirror Man by Lars Kepler: Featured Excerpt
By Crime HQJanuary 17, 2022
Pamela enjoys the loose ice crystals that form when the snow starts to melt on the slopes. They make the skis’ grip almost frighteningly sharp.
She and her daughter, Alice, have been using sunscreen, but they still both have a bit of color on their cheeks. Martin, on the other hand, burned his nose and the skin beneath his eyes.
They ate lunch outside earlier, and it was so warm in the sun that both Pamela and Alice took off their coats and sat in only their undershirts.
All three have aching legs, so they have decided to take a break from the slopes tomorrow. Alice and Martin are planning to go fishing for char, while Pamela pays a visit to the hotel spa.
When Pamela was nineteen, she and her friend Dennis traveled to Australia together. She met a man named Greg in a bar one night, and slept with him in his bungalow. When she got back to Sweden, she realized she was pregnant.
Pamela sent a letter to the bar in Port Douglas, addressed to Greg, who had eyes as blue as the ocean, and a month later he re- plied, explaining that he was already in a relationship. He was, how- ever, willing to pay for an abortion.
It was a difficult birth, ending in an emergency C-section. She and the girl both survived, and when the doctors advised Pamela not to have any more children, she decided to get an IUD. Dennis was there for her during her pregnancy and delivery, supporting her and encouraging her to fulfill her dream of studying architecture.
Almost immediately after her five years of training, Pamela found a job with a small firm in Stockholm. She met Martin while she was working on the plans for a villa in Lidingö. He was the developer’s building contractor. He looked like a rock star, with intense eyes and long hair.
They kissed for the first time at a party at Dennis’s place. When Alice was six, they moved in together, and got married two years later. Alice is now sixteen and in her first year of high school.
It’s eight in the evening, and the sky is dark. They have ordered room service, and Pamela is hurrying to straighten up all of their discarded clothes and dirty socks before it arrives.
She can hear Martin singing “Riders on the Storm” in the shower.
The plan is to lock their door once Alice falls asleep, open a bottle of champagne, and have sex.
Pamela gathers up her daughter’s clothes and takes them to her room.
She finds Alice sitting on her bed in her underwear, phone in one hand. The girl looks just like Pamela did at that age, with the same eyes, the same chestnut-red hair and tight curls.
“The truck’s plates were stolen,” Alice says, glancing up from the screen.
Two weeks ago, the media reported that a girl around Alice’s age had been assaulted and abducted in Katrineholm. Her name is Jenny Lind, like the legendary opera singer. It feels like all of Sweden has joined the search for her and the truck with Polish plates. The police have appealed for help, and tips have been flooding in from the general public, but they still haven’t found a single trace of the girl.
Pamela returns to the living room, straightens the cushions, and picks up the remote control from the floor.
The darkness outside seems to be pressing up against the windows, and she jumps when she hears a knock at the door.
She is just about to answer when Martin emerges from the bath- room, singing and smiling. He is completely naked, with a hand towel wrapped around his damp hair.
She shoos him back into the bathroom and can still hear him singing as she opens the door to the woman with the serving cart.
Pamela checks her phone as the woman sets the table in the living room, thinking that she must be wondering about the singing in the bathroom.
“He’s fine, I promise,” she jokes.
But the woman doesn’t smile, she simply hands Pamela the bill on a silver plate and asks her to write the total sum and sign before she leaves.
Pamela tells Martin it’s safe to come out now, then goes to fetch Alice. They sit down on the enormous bed with their plates and glasses, and watch a recent horror film as they eat.
An hour later, both Pamela and Martin are asleep.
When the film ends, Alice switches off the TV, lifts Pamela’s glasses from her nose, and cleans up the plates and glasses. She then turns out the lights, brushes her teeth, and heads to her own room.
Before long, the little town in the valley falls silent. At around three in the morning, the northern lights appear in the sky, shining like silvery tree branches.
Pamela is torn from her sleep by the sound of a young boy crying in the darkness, but his soft sobs fade before she has time to work out where she is.
She lies perfectly still, thinking about Martin’s nightmares. The sound came from the window by the bed.
When they first started dating, he often had nightmares about dead boys. Pamela found it touching that a grown man was willing to admit he was afraid of ghosts.
She remembers one night in particular. He woke up screaming. They sat in the kitchen, drinking chamomile tea, and her hair stood on end as he described one of the ghosts in detail.
The boy’s face was gray, and he had slicked his hair back with rancid blood. His nose was broken, and one of his eyes was hanging from its socket.
She hears another sob.
Now wide awake, Pamela slowly turns her head.
The radiator beneath the window hisses softly, the warm air making the curtain bulge out as though a child were hiding behind it, pressing his face to the fabric.
She wants to wake Martin, but doesn’t dare speak.
The crying starts again, on the floor right next to the bed.
Her heart starts beating harder, and she reaches out for Martin in the darkness, but no one is there; the sheets on his side of the bed are cool.
Pamela pulls her knees up to her chest, curling up, suddenly convinced that the sobbing is moving around to her side of the bed; then it stops abruptly.
She cautiously reaches for the lamp on the nightstand. The room is so dark that she can’t even see her own hand.
The lamp feels like it’s farther away than it was when she went to bed.
Pamela listens tensely for the slightest sound, groping for the switch. She finds the base of the lamp and follows the cable upward.
As her fingers reach the switch and turn on the light, she hears the sobbing again, now over by the window.
Pamela squints in the sudden glare and puts on her glasses. She climbs out of bed and finds Martin on the floor in his pajama bottoms.
He seems to be dreaming about something upsetting. His cheeks are streaked with tears. She sinks to her knees beside him and places a hand on his shoulder.
“Honey,” she says quietly. “Honey, you’ve—”
Martin cries out, staring at her with wide eyes. He blinks in con- fusion, scans the hotel room, and then turns back to her. His lips move, but he doesn’t utter a word.
“You fell out of bed,” she says.
Martin shuffles up against the wall, wipes his mouth, and stares blankly ahead.
“What were you dreaming about?” she asks. “Don’t know,” he whispers.
“I don’t know. My heart is beating so damn fast,” he says, climb- ing back up into bed.
Pamela lies down on her side and takes his hand. “You shouldn’t watch horror films,” she says. “No.” He smiles, meeting her eye.
“But you know it’s all fake, don’t you?” “Are you sure?”
“It’s not real blood; it’s just ketchup,” she jokes, pinching his cheek.
She turns out the light and pulls him close. They make love as quietly as they can and fall asleep with their limbs still entwined.
After breakfast the next morning, Pamela lies in bed, reading the news on her iPad, while Martin and Alice get ready.
The sun has risen, and the icicles outside are glowing, water already dripping from their tips.
Martin loves ice fishing and could talk for hours about lying on his stomach, blocking out the light as he peers down into the hole, watching the enormous char approach from below.
The hotel concierge recommended driving out to Kallsjön, part of the Indal River Basin. There is plenty to catch, and it’s easily accessible by car, but quiet enough that you can still fish in peace.
Alice puts down her heavy backpack by the door, hangs a pair of ice prods around her neck, and laces up her boots.
“I’m starting to regret this,” she says as she straightens up. “A massage and a facial sound pretty good right now.”
“I’m going to enjoy every second of it,” Pamela says from bed, smiling. “I’m going to—”
“Stop!” Alice interrupts her.
But Pamela continues.“—swim, use the sauna, get a manicure ”
“Please, I don’t want to know.”
Pamela pulls on her bathrobe and moves over to her daughter to give her a hug. She kisses Martin and wishes them shitty fishing— something she has learned to say instead of “good luck”—an old fisherman’s tradition.
“Don’t stay out there too long, and be careful,” she says. “Enjoy your alone time,” Martin replies, smiling.
Alice’s skin looks almost luminous, her reddish curls peeping out from beneath her hat.
“Do your jacket all the way up,” Pamela tells her.
She pats her daughter on the cheek, her hand lingering, though she can sense the girl’s impatience.
The two moles beneath Alice’s left eye have always made Pamela think of tears.
“What?” Alice grins. “Have fun with Dad.”
They head off, and Pamela stands in the doorway, watching them disappear down the hallway.
She closes the door and is returning to the bedroom, freezing, when she hears a sudden scraping sound.
A heap of wet snow slides from the roof and rushes past the window in the blink of an eye, crashing down to the ground.
Pamela puts on her bikini, a bathrobe, and a pair of slippers, then grabs her tote bag with her room key, phone, and a book, and leaves the suite.
Everyone else seems to be out on the slopes, so Pamela has the spa all to herself. The water in the large pool is as flat as a mirror, reflecting the snow and the trees outside.
She dumps her tote bag on a table between two lounge chairs, hangs up her bathrobe, and goes over to the bench piled with clean towels.
She lowers herself into the warm water and starts swimming slowly. After ten lengths, she pauses by the panoramic windows at the far end.
She wishes that Martin and Alice were here with her.
This is magical, she thinks, looking out at the mountains and the forest in the sunlight.
She swims another ten lengths, then climbs out of the pool to sit down and read.
A young man comes over and asks if she would like anything to drink, and though it is still morning, she orders a glass of champagne.
Heavy snow tumbles to the ground from a large tree outside. The branches quiver while small white flakes dance in the sunlight. She reads another few chapters of her book and finishes her champagne. Then she takes off her glasses and heads into the sauna, where she thinks about Martin’s recurring nightmares.
His parents and two brothers died in a car accident when he was just a boy. Martin was thrown through the windshield and onto the asphalt, and though his back was badly abraded, he survived.
When she and Martin first met, her best friend, Dennis, was working as a psychologist in a youth clinic while he pursued a specialization in grief counseling. He helped Martin open up about his loss and process the feelings of guilt he’d been dragging around like a ball and chain ever since the accident.
Pamela stays in the sauna until she is drenched in sweat, then takes a shower, puts on a dry bikini, and heads to the massage room. She’s welcomed by a woman with scarred cheeks and sad eyes. She takes off her top and lies face down on the table. The woman spreads a towel over her hips.
The woman’s hands are rough, and the warm oils smell like green leaves and wood. Pamela closes her eyes as her mind starts to drift. She pictures Martin and Alice disappearing down the quiet hall-
way without glancing back.
The woman’s fingertips follow her spine down to the edge of the towel. She massages her upper glutes, and spreads her thighs apart. When she’s finished her massage, Pamela plans on getting a facial and then going back to the pool and ordering a glass of wine and a
The woman pours more warm oil onto her body, her hands moving up from Pamela’s waist, across her ribs, to her armpits.
A shiver passes through Pamela, despite how warm the room is.
Maybe it’s just her muscles loosening up.
Her mind turns to Martin and Alice again, but this time she is looking at them from above.
She sees Kallsjön tucked between the mountains, the ice as gray as steel. Martin and Alice are just two tiny black dots.
When the massage is over, the woman covers her in hot towels and leaves the room. Pamela remains on the bed for a moment, then slowly gets up and puts on her bikini top.
Her slippers are cold and damp as she pushes her feet into them.
She can hear the sound of a helicopter in the distance.
Pamela walks over to the next room and says hello to the aesthetician, a blond woman no older than twenty.
She dozes off during the deep cleanse and peel. The woman is busy preparing a clay mask when there is a knock at the door.
She excuses herself and leaves the room.
Pamela hears a man speaking quickly out in the hallway, but can’t make out what he’s saying. After a moment or two, the woman returns with a strange look on her face.
“I’m sorry, but there seems to have been an accident,” she says. “They said it’s nothing serious, but you should probably go to the hospital anyway.”
Pamela doesn’t notice that her bathrobe is flapping open as she hurries through the hotel. She calls Martin, listening to his phone ring and ring with a rising sense of panic.
When no one answers, she starts running. She loses one of her slippers, but doesn’t bother stopping to grab it.
The soft carpet dulls her footsteps, muting them almost as if she were underwater.
Pamela tries Alice’s phone, but it goes straight to voice mail. She presses the button for the elevator and kicks off her remaining slipper. Her hands are shaking as she calls Martin again. “Pick up,” she whispers.
She waits a moment or two, then takes the stairs instead, clinging to the handrail, hurling herself up two steps at a time.
On the second-floor landing, she almost trips over a forgotten bucket. She swings around and keeps going, trying to process exactly what the aesthetician said to her. She’d told Pamela it was nothing
serious, but if that were the case, why is no one answering?
Pamela stumbles out into the hallway on the third floor, steadying herself against the wall before breaking into a run again.
When she reaches the door to their suite, she comes to a halt, gasping for air. She inserts the key, steps inside, and heads straight for the desk, accidentally knocking over the brochure stand as she picks up the phone. She calls down to Reception and asks them to book a taxi for her.
She pulls her clothes on over her bikini, grabs her bag and her phone, and leaves the room.
In the taxi, she continues to call and text Martin and Alice. Eventually, she gets through to the hospital, and speaks to a woman who refuses to give out any information.
Pamela’s heart is racing, and she has to stop herself from screaming at the woman.
The road is wet and slushy. Tree trunks and melting piles of snow fly past the car window. Dark pines packed together glow in the sunlight. Hare tracks disappear into clearings.
She clasps her hands and prays to God that Alice and Martin are okay.
Her thoughts are racing. She pictures their rental car skidding in the snow before rolling down an embankment. She sees a mother bear charging out from the trees, a fishing hook flicking up and catching an eye, a leg snapping at the top of a boot.
She has made at least thirty calls to Alice and Martin, sent text messages and e-mails as well, but she still hasn’t managed to get any answers before the taxi pulls into Östersund.
The hospital glitters in the bright sunlight. It’s a huge complex, with brown walls and glazed walkways. Melted snow runs across the pavement.
The driver pulls up by the ambulance bay, and she pays and climbs out, anxiety drumming in her head.
Pamela hurries along a brown wall decorated with strange blood-red wooden planks that lead her to the emergency room. She staggers over to Reception and hears her own voice from afar as she gives her name. Her hands are trembling as she pulls out her ID to give to the bearded man behind the desk. He tells her to take a seat in the waiting room, but she stays on her feet, staring down at her shoes on the black carpet.
Pamela realizes she could search for information about car crashes on her phone, but she can’t bring herself to do it.
She has never been so afraid in her life.
She takes a few steps, turns around, and looks back at the bearded man.
She knows she won’t be able to wait for long. She wants to go search for her family in the intensive-care rooms.
“Pamela Nordström?” a nursing assistant asks, approaching her. “What’s going on? No one is telling me anything,” says Pamela,
swallowing hard as they walk.
“You’ll have to talk to the doctor. I don’t have any information.” They walk down hallways full of stretchers and through automatic doors with dirty glass panels.
In one of the waiting rooms, she sees an old woman crying. The fish in the aquarium beside her dance in shimmering shoals.
They keep walking until they get to the intensive-care unit. Staff members hurry past the closed doors along the hallway.
The vinyl flooring is cream-colored, and there is a strong smell of disinfectant in the air.
Another nurse appears from one of the rooms and greets Pamela with a reassuring smile.
“I know you must be beside yourself,” she says, shaking Pamela’s hand, “but there’s nothing to worry about, I promise. Everything will be fine. The doctor will be here to speak to you soon.”
Pamela follows the nurse into one of the intensive-care rooms.
She can hear the rhythmic hiss of a respirator.
“What happened?” she asks, her voice barely above a whisper. “We’re keeping him sedated, but he’s out of danger now.”
Pamela sees Martin lying in the bed, a plastic tube in his mouth. His eyes are closed, and he is hooked up to various machines measuring his cardiac activity, his pulse, and his oxygenation.
“But . . .”
Her voice deserts her, and she reaches out to brace herself against the wall.
“He’d fallen through the ice and was hypothermic when he was found.”
“But Alice,” she mumbles.
“What was that?” the nurse asks, smiling. “My daughter—where is my daughter, Alice?”
The nurse can hear how agitated she sounds. She turns pale as she listens to the uninhibited desperation in Pamela’s voice. “We don’t know anything about—”
“They were on the ice together!” Pamela shouts. “She was right there with him, you can’t have left her out there, she’s just a child! You can’t. You can’t!”
Copyright © 2022 by Lars Kepler. All rights reserved.
*Author Photo Credit: Ewa-Marie Rundquist.
About The Mirror Man by Lars Kepler:
Sixteen-year-old Jenny Lind is kidnapped in broad daylight on her way home from school and thrown into the back of a truck. She’s taken to a dilapidated house, where she and other girls face horrors far beyond their worst nightmares. Though they’re desperate to escape, their captor foils everyone of their attempts.
Five years later, Jenny’s body is found hanging in a playground, strung up with a winch on a rainy night. As the police are scrambling to find a lead in the scant evidence, Detective Joona Linna recognizes an eerie connection between Jenny’s murder and a death declared a suicide years before. And when another teenage girl goes missing, it becomes clear to Joona that they’re dealing with a serial killer—and his murderous rampage may have just begun.