Victim Without a Face: New Excerpt

Victim Without a Face: A Fabian Risk Novel by Stefan AhnhemVictim Without a Face by Stefan Ahnhem—the 1st book in an internationally bestselling, award-winning series—is a chilling novel about the ultimate revenge (Available September 6, 2016).

A KILLER WITH A MESSAGE.

Two men are dead. Both had been bullies at school. A single clue has been found at the scene: a class photo, with two faces neatly crossed out.

A DETECTIVE WHO CAN’T LET GO.

Fabian Risk is among the faces in the photograph. He’s also the lead detective on the case. He thought he’d left his schooldays behind. Now his classmates are dying for the sins of their childhood….

1

FABIAN RISK HAD DRIVEN this route more times than he could remember, but it had never felt as easy and uplifting as it did right now. His family had left Stockholm early in the morning and rewarded themselves with a long lunch break in Gränna.

Fabian’s anxiety about moving back to his hometown was already starting to dissipate. Sonja was happy, almost bubbly, and had offered to drive the last stretch through Småland so he could enjoy a beer with his herring at lunch. Everything was almost too perfect, and he found himself wondering if it was all just for show. If he were to be totally honest with himself, deep down he had been hesitant to believe that running away from their problems and starting over again would truly work.

The children had reacted just as expected. Matilda saw it as an exciting adventure, even though she would have to start fourth grade at a new school. Theodor hadn’t been quite as positive, and even threatened to stay behind in Stockholm. But after their lunch in Gränna, it seemed that even Theodor was willing to give it a chance, and to everyone’s surprise he had taken his earphones out and spoken with them several times during the car ride.

But best of all was that the shouting had finally stopped. The shouts and screams of people begging and pleading for their lives had hounded Fabian for the past six months, both in his dreams and during the better part of his waking hours. He had first noticed their absence around Södertälje, southwest of Stockholm, but he’d assumed it was just a figment of his imagination. Not until they’d passed Norrköping was he totally sure that with every kilometre the voices were losing strength. Now that they had arrived, 556 kilometres later, the voices were silent altogether.

It was as if their life in Stockholm and the incidents of last winter were deep in the past. They were starting out fresh, Fabian thought, inserting the key into the lock of their new home, an English red-brick row house on Pålsjögatan. Up to this point Fabian was the only member of the family who had been inside, but he wasn’t at all nervous about what everyone else would think. As soon as he had seen that this house was for sale, he was sure that it was the only place for them to begin their new lives.

Pålsjögatan 17 was in the Tågaborg neighbourhood, a stone’s throw from downtown and just around the corner from the Pålsjö forest. Fabian had plans to jog in the woodland each morning and start playing tennis again on the clay courts nearby. The seaside was also very close: it was a quick walk down Halalid hill to get to Fria Bad, the public beach where he had gone swimming all the time as a boy. Back then he used to pretend that he lived in this very neighbourhood rather than the yellow tenement buildings up in Dalhem. Now, thirty years later, his dream had come true.

“Dad, what are you waiting for? Aren’t you going to answer that?” Theodor asked.

Fabian roused from his daydream and realized that the rest of his family were down on the sidewalk, waiting for him to pick up his ringing phone: it was Astrid Tuvesson, his new — or rather, future — boss in the criminal investigation department of the Helsingborg police.

He was still part of the Stockholm police department on paper for another six weeks. Outwardly, it had been his own decision to quit, but Fabian had no doubt that most of his old colleagues knew what really happened. He would never be able to set foot in that police station again.

Now he had six weeks of involuntary vacation, which was starting to seem more and more appealing. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had this much time off — it must have been since he’d finished school. The plan was to use the six weeks to get settled in their new house and city. Depending on the weather and their mood, they might even take a trip somewhere warmer. The last thing they wanted to do was stress out. Astrid Tuvesson was undoubtedly well aware of this fact. And yet she was calling.

Something must have happened, but Fabian and Sonja had made a promise to each other. This summer, they would be a family again and share their parental responsibilities. Fabian was hoping that Sonja would have the energy to finish her last few paintings for an exhibition this fall.

Weren’t there other police officers in Helsingborg who weren’t on vacation?

“No, the call can wait,” he said, putting his phone in his pocket. He unlocked the front door of the house and opened it for Theodor and Matilda, who were fighting each other to be the first one in. “If I were you, I’d check out the backyard!” He turned to Sonja, who was coming up the stairs with an iPod speaker in her hands.

“Who was that?”

“It wasn’t important. Come on, let’s look at the house.”

“It wasn’t?”

“No. It wasn’t,” Fabian said. He could see in her eyes that she didn’t believe him, so he got out the phone to show her who had called. “It was my future boss, who I’m sure just wanted to welcome us to town.” He guided Sonja into the house with his hands in front of her eyes. “Ta-da!” He removed his hands and watched as she looked around the empty living room with its fireplace, and the connecting kitchen that looked out onto the small backyard, where Matilda could be seen jumping on a big trampoline.

“Wow. This is … absolutely fantastic.”

“So it gets a passing grade? You like it?”

Sonja nodded. “Did the movers say anything about when they’ll be here?”

“Only that it will be sometime this afternoon or evening. We can always hope they’re delayed and don’t get here until tomorrow.”

“Why would we hope that, may I ask?” Sonja said, placing her arms around his neck.

“We have everything we need right here. A clean floor, candles, wine, and music.” Fabian pulled out his old, scratched iPod Classic and placed it in the speaker, which Sonja had put on the kitchen island. He chose Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago — a favourite album of the last few weeks. He’d been late to hop on the Bon Iver bandwagon. He had initially thought the record was boring, but upon giving it a second chance had realized what a masterpiece it really was.

He put his arms around Sonja and started dancing. She laughed and did her best to follow his improvised steps. He looked into her hazel eyes as she loosened her hair clip and let her brown hair down. The exercise her therapist had prescribed had certainly brought results, both mentally and physically. She must have lost about ten pounds. She’d never been fat, quite the opposite, but her facial features were sharper, and it suited her. Fabian swung around suddenly and dipped her. She laughed again and he realized how much he’d missed that sound.

They had discussed a number of solutions before settling on Helsingborg. Everything from moving out of their apartment near Södra Station and buying a house in one of Stockholm’s many inner suburbs, to buying a second apartment and having a trial separation, taking care of the children in turns. None of these alternatives had seemed right. Whether it was because they were too afraid they might get divorced or because deep down they actually still loved each another was still unclear.

It wasn’t until he found the house on Pålsjögatan that everything fell into place. He was offered a job as detective inspector with the Helsingborg police, there were open spots at Tågaborg School, and Fabian had found this perfect house, with its large, sky-lit attic that would make an ideal studio for Sonja. It was as if someone had taken mercy on them and decided to give them one last chance.

“What do we do about the kids?” Sonja whispered in his ear.

“I’m sure there’s some room down in the basement where we can lock them up.”

Sonja was about to respond, but Fabian interrupted her with a kiss. They were still dancing when the doorbell rang.

“Are the movers here already?” Sonja pulled away. “Maybe we’ll get to sleep in our beds after all.”

“And I was so looking forward to the floor.”

“I’m sure the floor is still available. I said sleep. Nothing more.” She resumed their kiss, letting her hand run down his stomach to find its way under his waistband.

Everything is going to turn out fine and we will live happily ever after, Fabian thought as she removed her hand and went to open the door.

“Hi, my name is Astrid Tuvesson. I’m one of your husband’s new colleagues.” The woman in the doorway extended her hand to Sonja. With her other hand, she pushed her sunglasses up into her curly blonde hair, which, along with her colourful dress, thin brown legs, and sandals, made her look a decade younger than fifty-two.

“Oh? Hello?” Sonja turned to Fabian, who walked over and shook hands with Tuvesson.

“You mean future colleague. I don’t start until August sixteenth,” Fabian said, noticing that her left earlobe was completely missing.

“Future boss, then, if we’re going to be that nit-picky.” She laughed and adjusted her hair to hide her ear, and Fabian found himself wondering if it was an injury or something she’d been born with. “Sorry. I really don’t want to bother you in the middle of your vacation, and you both must be tired after your trip, but —”

“No problem,” Sonja interrupted. “Come in. Unfortunately we can’t offer you anything because we’re still waiting for the movers.”

“That’s quite alright. All I need is a few minutes with your husband.”

Sonja nodded mutely and Fabian showed Tuvesson to the deck out back, closing the door behind them.

“I gave in and bought my kids a trampoline, too. They had to bug me for several years before I agreed to it, and by that time they were too old.” Tuvesson said.

“I’m sorry, but why are you here?” Fabian had no desire whatsoever to spend his vacation making small talk with his new boss.

“There’s been a murder.”

“Has there? What a shame. I don’t mean to interfere, but wouldn’t it be better to talk to one of your colleagues who isn’t on vacation?”

“Jörgen Pålsson. Sound familiar?”

“Is he the victim?”

Tuvesson nodded.

Fabian recognized the name, but he wasn’t tempted to try and place it. The last thing he wanted to do was work. He was beginning to feel like a fully loaded oil tanker that had just been hijacked by pirates and forced to turn away from an island paradise.

“Maybe this will jog your memory.” Tuvesson held up a plastic sleeve with a photograph inside. “It was on the victim’s body.”

Fabian looked at the photo, and knew immediately that there would be no island paradise for him. He recognized the image, although he couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen it. It was his class photo from the ninth grade, the last year of compulsory school — the last picture of all of them together. He was in the second row, and Jörgen Pålsson was behind him — crossed out with black marker.

***

 

Copyright © 2016 Stefan Ahnhem.

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Stefan Ahnhem is an established screenwriter for both TV and film, and has worked on a variety of projects, including adaptations of Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series. He also serves on the board of the Swedish Writers Guild. Victim Without a Face is his first novel. It won Sweden’s Crimetime Specsavers Award and Germany’s MIMI for best crime fiction. He lives in Stockholm.

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