The Last Day
Four more steps, then he turns around again. Doesn’t trust the silence behind him. All he can hear is the chirping of the grasshoppers. No engines, no birds. He misses the night singer.
Its high, fast song keeping the darkness at bay.
A shadow by the edge of the road makes him jump, and pain radiates out from his broken rib.
It’s just a bush.
The darkness is full of shapes dancing around him – faster, closer – making it difficult to breathe. Could his broken rib have damaged his lung?
Finally, he sees the light. A tiny dot that slowly grows to a square. His head is pounding, nausea washing over him, twitching in the light, but he tries to fix his eyes on it. That is where he needs to go.
His legs give way and he drops to his knees, breaking his fall with his hands. The sharp taste of bile fills his mouth. It feels like someone has rammed a fist into his chest and started rummaging around inside.
Staying right there on the ground feels incredibly tempting, but he is so close now.
He crawls back onto his feet and staggers forward. Hears something crunch behind him. Footsteps? No, it can’t be – it He pauses, noticing movement in the light. His eyes take in what he is seeing, but it’s like they don’t want to pass it on.
The question tears at him, at the ground beneath him. Everything is about to crumble.
Wednesday 15 May
Hanna Duncker followed the gravel path down to the wrought iron gate, which creaked in protest as she pushed it open. The list of things that needed repairing was getting longer and longer. She had moved into the little white house with the blue corner panels just over a month earlier and, like Kleva, the small hamlet it stood on the outskirts of, it was tiny – under fifty square metres in total. Hanna had grown up on the other side of the island, in eastern Öland, but moving back there had never been an option. If she did, she would forever be nothing but Lars Duncker’s daughter.
Lars had finally drunk himself to death last autumn, and it was while Hanna was clearing out her childhood home, alone, that she had realised what she wanted. Driving over the bridge for the first time in years had woken a powerful sense of longing in her, a longing for everything she had been missing in Stockholm. Öland was where she belonged.
Buying a house that needed so much work wasn’t something she had really thought through, but it had been the best place available within her budget. Once she had made the decision to come back to the island, she hadn’t been patient enough to the process drag on. Within the space of just three weeks, she had sold her apartment on the outskirts of Stockholm, bought the house and found herself a new job.
Only then had she called her brother, Kristoffer, in London. He had reacted more or less exactly as she had expected him to.
There’s something seriously wrong with you, he’d hissed.
They hadn’t spoken since. Yes, she had spat out a few harsh words herself. There was just so much pent-up anger between them. Over the fact that he hadn’t come to the funeral, or that he had left it to her to draw up an inventory and empty the house they had both grown up in. There was only a year between them, and for a while they had almost been like twins.
From the very first morning in the new house, Hanna had developed a ritual: she walked the seven hundred metres down to the beach. After fifty or so metres, she passed Ingrid’s grey stone house, which had to be at least twice the size of her own. That morning, she saw Ingrid on the swinging seat in the garden, eyes closed. Silver hair and wrinkled skin, a blanket draped over her legs. The resemblance to Hanna’s grandmother was striking. Granny spent her days doing much the same now that the haze of forgetfulness had enveloped her.
Hanna tried to sneak past without the old woman noticing her – she wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone right now, not even Ingrid – but Ingrid’s eyes snapped open and the resemblance was gone. Her eyes were dark brown, not greenish-blue like Granny’s, and there was a pronounced alertness in them. She had probably come outside specifically to wait for Hanna. The views were better on the other side of the house, where the poker-straight fields stretched out into the distance. On this side, the landscape was flat and rough, and would likely be developed before long. But Ingrid was more interested in her neighbours than the countryside.
The blanket dropped to the ground as she got up and took a few steps forward.
‘Hello,’ she said. ‘Big day today.’
Hanna nodded. It was her first day as an investigator with the Kalmar Police. She would be investigating serious crimes across Kalmar County, which also covered the east of Småland and the whole of Öland. Her new boss, Ove Hultmark, had decided to ease her in as gently as possible by having her start on a Wednesday.
Why had he hired her, considering their history? Hanna still couldn’t make sense of it, and that made her uneasy: was there something going on that she didn’t understand?
‘Just don’t cause a fuss, and you’ll be fine,’ Ingrid told her. In Ingrid’s eyes, causing a fuss was about the worst thing a person could do.
A few days after Hanna moved in, Ingrid had knocked on her door with a box of freshly baked biscuits. Hanna had tried to keep their conversation in the doorway, but Ingrid had invited herself in, asking for a cup of tea to drink with the biscuits. Black tea, nothing too floral or funny. When she saw the mess inside, she snorted: So, this is what you didn’t want me to see? Ingrid’s bluntness had brought Hanna’s walls crashing down. Her grandmother had been exactly the same, and Hanna knew she probably wouldn’t have survived without her.
Within the space of just a few minutes, Ingrid had told Hanna all about her life. Hanna knew that her surname was Mattsson and that, after years of longing, she had finally given birth to a son when she was thirty-six years old. That he now ran the farm she had inherited from her father. That she had three grandchildren, and that the two eldest were at university, in Linköping and Umeå. That the youngest was a much later addition, an eleven-year-old with Down’s syndrome. That Ingrid had a troublesome hip. By contrast, Hanna had revealed her own surname only at Ingrid’s direct request.
Does that make you Lars’s daughter? Ingrid had asked.
Hanna had nodded, and the topic had never come up again. For a moment, however, Ingrid’s brown eyes had been full of compassion. Perhaps Hanna should follow Kristoffer’s example and change her name. He was a Baxter now, like his wife. But Hanna didn’t want to do that; she hadn’t done anything wrong.
‘What are you doing today?’ Hanna asked now.
‘It’s Wednesday,’ said Ingrid. ‘I always take the bus to Mörbylånga and have a bit of a flutter on the V65.’ Seeing Hanna’s blank face, she added: ‘Harness racing.’
Hanna excused herself, telling Ingrid she had an appointment she had to keep, and continued down the path towards Kleva strandväg. To date, there were only two houses on the little strip of land by the road down to the water. A family with young children lived in one of them, but the other seemed to be empty. Perhaps its owners used it as a summer house. Ingrid had spent much of her second visit to Hanna’s house going through the various inhabitants of Kleva – there were no more than thirty of them in total – but she hadn’t said much about the people living on the coastal road. In fact, she had spent most of the time talking about Jörgen, the Stockholmer who had moved to the island with his wife a few years earlier, and liked to complain about everything from the horse dung on the road to the people who let their houses fall into disrepair.
What a bloody moaner, Ingrid had said. I’m not going to replace things that work perfectly well just because some grumpy mainlander tells me to. Despite the years Hanna had spent living in the capital, Ingrid still thought of her as an islander. And according to Ingrid, she was a welcome arrival. She was a police officer, after all.
For Hanna, the road down to the beach characterised Öland: a straight gravel track flanked by grain fields. Small, straggling forage maize crops, and some other plant she didn’t recognise. The weeds in the ditches were so high that the low stone walls were almost entirely obscured from view. A few hundred metres ahead, the trees were like a promise of something better. Beyond them, the Kalmar Strait.
The trees slowly drew closer, and the tang of fertiliser gave way to pine and seaweed. Hanna tipped back her head and let the wind caress her face. She had missed this. In Stockholm, she had lived her life in a cramped five-storey building surrounded by people she knew nothing about. On Öland, she felt like she could breathe.
After another few metres, the strait appeared like a streak of blue between the trees, growing with every step she took. The gravel track opened out onto a small car park, and Hanna cut through it, turning south and ignoring the beach. It wasn’t quite bathing season yet, and it was still early in the morning, but she didn’t want to risk bumping into anyone. She saw an elderly man and his Labrador walking towards her, and nodded in greeting.
Maybe she should get a dog. Yes, she would be at work all day, but she suspected Ingrid would be more than happy to look after it. For an eighty-one-year-old, she was still incredibly active; the problem with her hip was barely noticeable. But no. Hanna didn’t even like dogs. Besides, her loneliness felt less tangible here on the island, despite the fact that she hadn’t really spoken to anyone but Ingrid. There was no one in Stockholm she would stay in touch with. Definitely not Fabian.
Hanna followed the path a little further before pausing to look out at the Kalmar Strait. She breathed in the scent of seaweed and salt air. The wind had bent the trees inward, and there was an upturned rowing boat on the ground beside her, the white paint scraped off along its hull. She actually preferred the view from the other side of the island: the sea blending with the horizon, seemingly never-ending. From where she was standing now, she could make out the mainland on the other side.
Ingrid wasn’t alone in thinking that most of the island’s problems stemmed from the mainland, and she also wasn’t alone in using ‘mainlander’ as an insult. Hanna had bristled when she’d first noticed it in the newspaper after returning to Öland. On page four, there had been two articles about crimes that had been committed, and both went to lengths to point out that the perpetrator was a mainlander.
A sudden sense of longing took hold of her, an echo of what she had felt as she drove over the bridge last autumn. The desire for a life that wouldn’t slowly suffocate her. She was twelve the last time she was genuinely happy.
Her fingers dug beneath the sleeve of her jacket and sweater. She didn’t need to see the tattoo to feel its presence, her pulse like a fluttering bird’s heart beneath the black ink. Touching it always seemed to calm her down.
If Hanna was going to make it to the police station on time, she knew she would have to head back, but she couldn’t quite bring herself to move. The plan was to meet Ove Hultmark and then join in the morning meeting. It was the first part that made her most nervous. She had been nineteen when she’d last sat opposite the man, as he questioned her about her father. About what he claimed her father had done.
There’s something seriously wrong with you.
Kristoffer’s words came back to her, gnawing and niggling away. The suspicion that he might be right after all. That what he had said before hanging up was true: You’ve got no idea what you’re dredging up. You’re going to ruin everything.
by Johanna Mo
You've got no idea what you're dredging up. You're going to ruin everything.
The past is not going to stay buried in this unputdownable crime novel, the first in a series featuring Detective Hanna Duncker. Fans of Ragnar Jonasson and Ann Cleeves will be gripped by this moving and atmospheric crime novel, already a bestseller in Sweden.
Hanna Duncker has returned to the remote island she spent her childhood on and to the past that saw her father convicted for murder. In a cruel twist of fate her new boss is the policeman who put him behind bars.
On her first day on the job as the new detective, Hanna is called to a crime scene. The fifteen-year-old son of her former best friend has been found dead and Hanna is thrown into a complex investigation set to stir up old ghosts.
Not everyone is happy to have the daughter of Lars Duncker back in town. Hanna soon realises that she will have to watch her back as she turns over every stone to find the person responsible...