Authors: Anne Holt
‘Step aside, Stieg Larsson, Holt is the queen of Scandinavian crime thrillers’
‘Holt writes with the command we have come to expect from the top Scandinavian writers’
‘If you haven’t heard of Anne Holt, you soon will’
‘It’s easy to see why Anne Holt, the former minister of justice in Norway and currently its bestselling female crime writer, is rapturously received in the rest of Europe’
‘Holt deftly marshals her perplexing narrative … clichés are resolutely seen off by the sheer energy and vitality of her writing’
‘Her peculiar blend of off-beat police procedural and social commentary makes her stories particularly Norwegian, yet also entertaining and enlightening … reads a bit like a mash-up of Stieg Larsson, Jeffery Deaver and Agatha Christie’
ANNE HOLT is Norway’s bestselling female crime writer. She spent two years working for the Oslo Police Department before founding her own law firm and serving as Norway’s Minister for Justice between 1996 and 1997. She is published in 30 languages with over 6 million copies of her books sold.
Also by Anne Holt
THE HANNE WILHELMSEN SERIES:
Blessed Are Those Who Thirst
Death of the Demon
The Lion’s Mouth
The Truth Beyond
THE JOHANNE VIK SERIES:
The Final Murder
Death in Oslo
First published in trade paperback in Great Britain in 2014 by Corvus,
an imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd.
Copyright © Anne Holt and Berit Reiss-Andersen, 1997
English translation copyright © Anne Bruce, 2014
Originally published in Norwegian as
. Published by
agreement with Salomonsson Agency
The moral right of Anne Holt and Berit Reiss-Andersen to be identified as the
author of this work has been asserted by them in accordance with the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.
The moral right of Anne Bruce to be identified as the translator of this
work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright,
Designs and Patents Act of 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a
retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior
permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents
portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to
actual persons, living or dead, events or localities, is entirely coincidental.
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Trade paperback ISBN: 9780857898135
Paperback ISBN: 9780857892287
e-book ISBN: 9780857892355
Printed in Great Britain.
An imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd
26–27 Boswell Street
‘It’s no use being a qualified zoologist once you’re inside the lion’s mouth’
FRIDAY, APRIL 4, 1997
he wore a blue suit, the woman who sat doing nothing outside the Prime Minister’s office; she just sat there, with a mounting sense of disquiet, staring alternately at the double doors and her own telephone. Her neat little jacket was of classic cut, with a matching skirt, and was complemented by an overly gaudy scarf. Although it was close to the end of a long workday, not a single hair was out of place in her elegant, if somewhat dated coiffure. The hairstyle made her appear older than she actually was, and that might have been the intention, as if the fact that it had gone out of fashion in the early 1980s – feather-cut at the sides, with a full crown – somehow endowed her with a gravitas that her forty-plus years did not.
She had more than enough to do, but, uncharacteristically, she couldn’t settle down to anything. For some considerable time, she just sat there. Only her fingers betrayed her steadily rising sense that something was terribly wrong. They were long and beautifully manicured, with crimson nails and two gold rings on each hand, and they touched her temple at regular intervals, as though to tidy some invisible disorderly strands, before tapping the blotting pad with a hollow sound, like a series of shots fired using a silencer. Suddenly the woman stood up and crossed to the west-facing window.
It was twilight outside. April promised to be just as capricious as Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, author of the Norwegian national anthem,
had once described it many years earlier. Fifteen floors below, she saw people shivering as they hurried along Akersgata, some of them walking irritably in circles as they waited for a bus that might never come. There was still a light on in the Culture Minister’s office across the road in the R5 building. Despite the distance, the woman in the blue suit could see the secretary walking from the anteroom to her boss with a sheaf of papers. Tossing her blonde hair, the young Cabinet minister laughed in response to the older woman. She was too young to be Culture Minister. Not tall enough, either. An evening gown did not sit becomingly on a woman of barely five foot three. To crown it all, the young woman lit a cigarette, and placed an ashtray on top of the pile of papers.
She shouldn’t smoke in that office, thought the woman in blue. The finest cultural treasures are hanging in there. It can’t be doing the paintings any good. And it can’t be very safe either.
She embraced the feeling of irritation with gratitude. It momentarily distracted her from the sense of disquiet that was about to tip over into unfamiliar and distressing anxiety.
Two hours had passed since Prime Minister Birgitte Volter had said, very specifically, almost coldly, that she was not to be disturbed, no matter what. That was what she had said: “No matter what.”
Gro Harlem Brundtland, the previous Prime Minister, had never said, “No matter what.” She would have said “regardless of the reason”, or perhaps simply left it at that: she was not to be disturbed. Even if all seventeen stories of the government building went up in flames, Gro Harlem Brundtland would have been left in peace if she had given that instruction. But Gro had stepped down on October 25 of the previous year, and these were new times, with new methods and new jargon, and Wenche Andersen kept her emotions to herself. She carried out her work as she always did: effectively and discreetly.
It was well over an hour since Supreme Court Judge Benjamin Grinde had left the office. Clad in a charcoal-gray Italian suit, he had nodded as he emerged through the double doors and closed them behind him. Smiling faintly, he had indulged in a flattering remark about her new outfit before he had disappeared downstairs to the elevator on the fourteenth floor, carrying his burgundy leather briefcase under his arm. Wenche Andersen had automatically risen to her feet to take a cup of coffee in to Birgitte Volter, when at the last minute she had fortunately remembered her boss’s resolute instruction about peace and quiet.
However, it really was starting to get extremely late now.
The undersecretaries and political advisers had left, as had the remainder of the office staff. Wenche Andersen was sitting alone on a Friday evening on the fifteenth floor of the tower block in the government complex and did not know what to do. There was total silence from the Prime Minister’s office. Maybe that was not so strange after all, because of the double doors.
here was definitely something wrong with the contents of the plain, tulip-shaped crystal glass. He held it up to see how the light refracted in the red liquid. He tried to take his time listening to the wine, attempted to relax and enjoy it, as full-bodied Bordeaux normally deserved. The 1983 vintage was supposed to be friendly and inviting. This one was far too tight in its initial phase, and he pursed his lips in astonished disgust as it dawned on him that the flavor of its finish in no way matched the price he had paid for the bottle. Abruptly setting down his glass, he grabbed the TV remote control. The evening news bulletin had already started, but the broadcast was completely banal, and the images flickered past without him noticing anything other than that the
newsreader’s togs were thoroughly tasteless. A yellow jacket was quite simply not suitable male attire.
He had been compelled to do it. There had been no other option. Now that it was all over, he felt nothing. He had expected some kind of relief, the opportunity to breathe easily after all these years.
He really wanted to feel relieved, but instead he was gripped by an unfamiliar sense of loneliness. The furniture surrounding him suddenly seemed alien. As a child he had often climbed on to the heavy old oak sideboard decorated with bunches of grapes; it now dominated his own living room in all its grandeur, and he kept his exclusive collection of Japanese netsuke miniatures behind its polished glass doors, but today it seemed only gloomy and threatening.
One object lay on the table between him and the remote control. He did not understand what it was doing there. Why he had brought it with him was a mystery.
Giving himself a shake, he switched off the
newsreader with a tap of his finger. Tomorrow was his birthday, when he would turn fifty. He felt much older than that as he strained stiffly to rise from the Chesterfield settee and walk through to the kitchen. The pâté could, and
, to be made tonight. It would be at its best after twenty-four hours in a refrigerator.
For a second or two he considered opening another bottle of the wretched Bordeaux. Then he pushed the thought aside, and contented himself with a cognac poured generously into a fresh glass. Cooking cognac.
There was no relief to be found in the cognac either.
er hairstyle was no longer so perfect. A brittle, bleached lock fell across her eyes, and she felt beads of perspiration on her top lip. Nervously clutching her handbag, she opened it to
produce a freshly ironed handkerchief, which she held to her mouth before using it to mop her forehead.
Now she would go in. Something could be wrong. Birgitte Volter had disconnected the phone, so she would have to knock on the door. The Prime Minister might be ill: she had seemed stressed recently. Although Wenche Andersen had considerable reservations about Birgitte Volter’s rather reckless, unfamiliar style, she had to acknowledge that the Prime Minister was usually very friendly. During the past week, however, Birgitte Volter had been verging on dismissive; she had been irritable and sometimes even exasperated. Was she unwell? Now she would enter. Now.
Instead of disturbing the Prime Minister, she paid another visit to the toilet. But although she lingered in front of the mirror, she couldn’t find anything that needed attending to. She spent a long time washing her hands, then fished out a little tube of hand-cream from the closet underneath the sink. It was unnecessary and made her hands feel sticky, but used up some time. Massaging her fingers thoroughly, she felt the cream penetrate the surface of her skin. Involuntarily she looked at her watch once more, and breathed heavily. Only four and a half minutes had passed. The tiny golden hands almost seemed to be standing still. Anxious and resigned, she returned to her seat; even the sound of the toilet door slamming behind her seemed alarming.
Now she simply
go in. Wenche Andersen attempted to stand up but stopped halfway, hesitating, and sat down again. The instruction had been crystal clear. Birgitte Volter was not to be disturbed. “No matter what.” But nor had the Prime Minister said that Wenche Andersen could go home, and it would be unheard of to leave the office before she had been given permission to do so. Now she would go in. She must go in.
With her hand on the door handle, she placed her ear against the door panel. Not a sound. Tentatively, she tapped her index
finger on the wood. Still not a sound. She opened the outer door, and repeated the action. It did not help: no one said, “Come in!”, no one said, “Don’t disturb me!” No one said anything at all, and now it wasn’t just Wenche Andersen’s upper lip that was perspiring. Cautiously and hesitantly, ready to close the door again as quick as a flash if the Prime Minister was sitting there deep in concentration on something or other of great importance, she opened the door a tiny crack. However, from where she stood, looking through a gap that was no more than ten centimeters wide, she could see only the far end of the sitting area and the circular table.