A Times Crime Club Pick of the Week
When there's a pack on the hunt, nobody's safe
A closed community
Rose Farm is home to a group of survivalists, completely cut off from the outside world. Until now.
A missing person
A young woman goes missing within the perimeter of the farm compound. Can Tuva talk her way inside the tight-knit group to find her story?
A frantic search
As Tuva attempts to unmask the culprit, she gains unique access to the residents. But soon she finds herself in danger of the pack turning against her - will she make her way back to safety so she can expose the truth?
Will Dean's most heart-pounding Tuva Moodyson thriller yet takes Tuva to her absolute limits in exposing a heinous crime, and in her own personal life. Can she, and will she, do the right thing?
Release date: May 1, 2023
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Print pages: 320
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To my literary agent Kate Burke, and the team at Blake Friedmann: thank you.
To my editor Jenny Parrott, and the team at Oneworld: thank you.
To my international publishers, editors, translators: thank you.
To Maya Lindh (the voice of Tuva): thank you.
To all the booksellers and bloggers and reviewers and early supporters and tweeters and fellow authors: thank you. Readers benefit so much from your recommendations and enthusiasm. I am one of them. Special thanks to every single reader who takes the time to leave a review somewhere online. Those reviews help readers to find books. Thank you.
To @DeafGirly: thank you once again for your help and support. In many ways your opinion matters to me more than anyone else’s. I continue to be extremely grateful.
To Sweden: what a place! Thanks for welcoming me in.
To my family, and especially my parents: once again, thank you for letting me play alone for hours as a child. Thank you for taking me to libraries. Thank you for letting me read and draw and daydream and scribble down strange stories. Thanks for not censoring my book choices (too much). Thank you for allowing me to be bored. It was a special gift.
To my friends: thanks for your ongoing support (and patience, and love).
To Mary Shelley and Irvine Welsh: I read Frankenstein and Trainspotting back-to-back as an awkward teenager. The books blew my mind. Thank you.
Special thanks to my late granddad for teaching me some valuable lessons. He taught me to treat everyone equally, and with respect. To give the benefit of the doubt. To listen to advice even if you don’t then follow it. To take pleasure from the small things in life. To read widely. To never judge or look down on anyone. To be kind. To spend time with loved ones. To keep the kid inside you alive.
To Bernie and Monty: what can I say? I’m lucky. You both make me happy. Thank you.
To every shy, socially awkward kid: I see you. I was you. It will get easier. I promise.
To my wife and son: Thank you. Love you. Always.
Birch buds glow neon green as sunrays pick out blood drops on the road.
I touch my brakes.
Something injured. Fallen. Down in the long grass.
In the shade of the pine trees lies a creature on its side, losing blood, losing its life. No other traffic on this route. I’m north of Visberg where the hill forest meets Utgard and I am completely alone with this wounded beast.
I pull off the road and turn on my hazard lights. Clear asphalt ahead and clear asphalt behind. But a thousand dark trees either side of me, some of them tall enough to eclipse a church steeple.
Birdsong as I open the door of my Hilux pick-up truck. I can’t hear it well but I know it’s there. Chirping and cheeping as something lies dying quietly on the verge.
I approach. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up as I dodge the red splatter.
I can’t see well; it’s in the shade, protected by buttercups and weeds.
Still alive. Hanging on.
I make out the size and shape of the dog. A spiked collar round its bloodied neck, a coat shrouding its torso. I run to it and then I stop. Some primal instinct kicking in. Some animal response buried deep inside my genes waking from its slumber and instructing me to pause. To look around. To wait.
The dog whimpers in the long grass and a buzzard circles overhead, waiting, watching.
I approach the dog, and a man bursts out from the treeline in full camouflage and he’s carrying a rifle.
‘You,’ he says, out of breath.
I point to myself.
‘What have you seen?’
I frown and say, ‘There’s a dog by the road. It’s hurt.’
He follows my gaze, and then he runs to the dog. To his dog. I can tell from his gait and from the horror on his face that this dog is his.
He kneels in the grass and lays down his rifle and says, ‘Bronco.’
‘I found him a minute ago. I was going to call someone.’
The man says nothing.
Overhead the buzzard glides lower and I see its beautiful shadow dance across the surface of the road.
‘He’s alive,’ says the man, his voice cracking. ‘Bring your car closer.’
I don’t question him. I do as he asks.
The short drive back to the hunter and his wounded dog is all the time I need to understand what has happened today in this forgotten Värmland forest. The dog’s distant cousin, some wolf descended from those who crossed the Russian border through Finland to Sweden many years ago, has tracked this domesticated dog, this beloved pet, and savagely attacked him. Canine versus canine. Wild against tame.
I take the blanket I keep on my back seats through winter in case of breakdowns, and I offer it to the man. He ignores me.
‘Open the door,’ he says, and then he scoops up the injured dog as gently as a mother might lift her newborn for the first time. He supports the animal’s neck, stained, and he holds the dog close to his chest. Blood drips down the man’s hands and through his fingers.
I stand with the Hilux passenger side door open but the man says, ‘The back door.’
He gets inside. He uses the blanket to cover the dog, to conceal its wounds.
‘The vet?’ I ask.
‘In Gavrik town,’ he says. ‘Put your foot down.’
I make a U-turn in the road, my tyres squealing, and drive on past the dried blood. The dog’s breathing is fast and shallow.
‘Kevlar armour did its job,’ says the man. ‘Collar did its job. Now it’s time for the vet to do hers.’
I look through my rear-view mirror and the man has tears in his eyes and he is stroking the dog’s ear, reassuring his friend.
I speed up and say, ‘Shall I call them, to tell them we’re coming?’ but the man ignores my question and the dog whimpers and the man starts to sing. In a low tone, barely audible, the man starts to sing an ancient lullaby to his dying companion.
The most private of moments.
A haunting glimpse into the bond between these two. I stay quiet. I drive and I think about Noora. Shot in my own apartment. How she didn’t jump back into the wall or scream or throw her arms back, but rather how she just went down where she stood. Crumpled on the spot. The lack of drama in that hideous moment. The silent panic on Tammy’s face.
The man keeps on singing in his deep whisper and his dog groans and whines and the man smiles and looks up at me through my mirror.
‘Thank you,’ he says.
‘Wolf attack?’ I say.
‘Goddam wolves,’ he says. ‘Menace.’
‘You left your rifle in the grass back there.’
The man lets out a long sigh. ‘It’ll still be there when I go back to pick it up. That’s the way it is round these parts.’
‘Is the dog in pain?’
‘He’s in shock,’ says the man. ‘Bronco’s his name. Still in shock.’
‘I’m Tuva Moodyson.’
‘Oh,’ says the man. ‘Bengt Nyberg. Call me Nyberg.’
And then he carefully moves his dog on his lap and the dog yelps.
‘There, boy,’ says Nyberg. ‘I’m sorry. You just rest yourself real easy, you let me do all the worrying for the both of us. Shush yourself and rest easy, my boy.’
The twin chimneys of the Grimberg Liquorice factory present themselves like a vanity statue built by some narcissistic despot. They rise and rise as we approach and then they stand, resolute and dominant, over the town of Gavrik.
I park right outside the door to the vet, next building over from Doc Stina’s Vårdcentral surgery, and then I open the door for Nyberg and his dog.
‘What breed is Bronco?’ I ask.
‘Swedish elkhound. Finest hunt dogs ever bred.’
We go inside and the receptionist sees the dog and runs off to find a vet. Three come out and usher Nyberg into a room, and a minute later Nyberg emerges without his dog. His face has aged a decade. He looks distraught and alone.
‘I…’ he says, swallowing hard. ‘I’ll leave them to their work. Thank you, Tuva. I want to thank you.’
I wave that away and sit down on a plastic chair by the organic, dry cat food and gesture for him to sit down next to me.
‘What did they say?’
‘Just that they’ll take it from here and all I can do is wait.’ He looks at me and he seems smaller now. Diminished. ‘They say he’s lost a lot of blood.’
‘They’re very good vets. Great reputation.’
‘I should have said before, I work for the Gavrik Posten. After Bronco’s made a full recovery can I write something about this? Talk to you again?’
‘I don’t know,’ he says, shaking his head.
‘Because that collar and suit he was wearing probably saved his life, right? I think more people around here need to know about that. Maybe I could interview Benny Björnmossen from the hunt shop with you.’
‘That’s who sold me the Kevlar jacket and the collar,’ says Nyberg.
‘Might save some more dogs,’ I say. ‘Worth a try.’
‘When you put it like that,’ he says.
I pass him my card.
‘What were you hunting this time of year?’ I ask. ‘Just between you and me.’
‘Wasn’t hunting,’ he says. ‘Can’t hunt much in April. I was out looking for my cousin’s girl, only twenty years old, she is.’
‘Been missing a while,’ says Nyberg. ‘Works up at Rose Farm. You know the one? With all the solar panels and windmills and the moat. They’ve had wolf trouble in the past, as well. The farm with the big fence, you know it?’
I nod my head.
‘Elsa’s been working there on and off since she finished school. Well, they got a man called Abraham Viklund who runs the whole place.’ Nyberg looks down at his bloodstained hands. ‘And that’s why I was carrying my rifle around in April. On account of Abraham.’
I start to walk back to my Hilux and then I pause and turn around.
‘What is it now?’ asks T-Bone.
‘You’re worried about the police disrespecting your rights. Maybe you need an independent journalist here, to hold them to account.’
‘You gonna do that, are you? Hold the police to account?’
‘Reckon I keep them in check. I pushed along the Medusa case back in Utgard forest. And I was instrumental in the police searching Snake River Salvage for those two missing women.’
‘If you stick around for a half hour, you best keep Rose Farm’s interests front and centre.’
‘I focus on the common man. On the victim, always have.’
‘No victims on this farm.’
‘I mean Elsa Nyberg.’
‘Elsie ain’t so likely to end up a victim as you or me are. Look, here comes the cavalry, watch your step.’
There’s activity on the compound: dogs being unchained and spiked barriers erected to block bridges over ditches. If the police want to get up to the actual Rose Farm manor house they’ll need a tank not a Volvo.
And, as it turns out, they don’t even have a Volvo. These aren’t real police.
Sheriff Hansson’s taxi drives in slowly and parks, its chassis shaking on its wheels. Brown with badges and rooflights like a vintage cop-car from the Midwest. He steps out and adjusts his hat and spits into the dead bracken.
‘T-Bone,’ he says, looking up.
‘I won’t take up any more of your time than is strictly needed. Chief Björn asked me to drop by as a courtesy to you and Abraham.’
‘A courtesy, is it?’
‘Instead of the police department, you know. Just a friendly neighbourhood watch greeting, is all.’
‘You watch your own neighbourhood, Sheriff. And I’ll watch mine.’
‘You hear Elsa Nyberg hasn’t been seen in over two days. You know anything about her whereabouts, T-Bone?’
‘Moodyson from Ragnar Falk’s newspaper here asking me the exact same question. You two should work together. Partners, ain’t that the way? Regular Starsky and Hutch, you two’d make.’
‘Tuva,’ says the Sheriff.
‘So you haven’t seen nor heard from young Elsa, then, I assume?’
‘Could do with her here to help me swill out the big barn, that’s all I know.’
‘Mind if I look around a while?’
‘Would me minding make any difference?’
Sheriff Hansson smiles and approaches us, his hands in his pockets. The man has a swagger to him but he keeps it in check. He doesn’t walk bow-legged like Benny Björnmossen, he doesn’t quite have that much attitude. But you can tell his homemade uniform, complete with epaulettes and badges, and a radio attached to his lapel: it all lends him some modicum of authority. Like a kid’s drawing of a law-enforcement officer.
‘Need some rain,’ says the Sheriff.
‘Yes, we do.’
‘Didn’t get enough snow in the winter to fill the wells proper. Dry as a maiden aunt out here, excuse my language, Tuva.’
‘You painting metal or timber?’ says the Sheriff, looking at T-Bone’s hands.
‘Timber, of a sort.’
‘Best time of year to do it. Good and dry.’
‘Young Elsie ain’t here, Sheriff. And if you look around you’ll see all the tracks and pathways are temporarily inaccessible. We gotta apologise about that.’
‘That’s okay, I know you people are private and I respect it. Never caused me no problems all the time I’ve worn this badge. Not like the teenagers up in hill town. It’s like they’re out looking for trouble.’
‘They are,’ says T-Bone. ‘Looking for trouble I mean. If they weren’t you’d have more reason to be concerned, Sheriff. It’s the natural order of things if you think on it. Say the kids start doing what their pappas tell them and they stop trying to break the rules and they quit asserting themselves in the neighbourhood they happen to live in. Then what? Anarchy is what. And not the good kind. Nature’s way is for the young to challenge the old and then to dominate. I see it with Andreas’s dogs up there,’ he points to the small yellow dwelling close to the river. ‘Them big old dogs try to hang on to their place because they fought to get there, and you never forget that kind of struggle. But it’s happened for a thousand generations and it’ll happen for a thousand more. Same with wolf pups out in the forest. The young take on the alpha. Always do. Kids in town are rebelling and I’ll drink to it whenever I hear of it.’
‘Well, you might be right. But you’re not the one who has to keep order.’
‘I keep myself to myself.’
‘Elsa didn’t tell you where she was going? If someone was threatening her? A boyfriend?’
‘We didn’t chat much. We had too much work to do.’
The Sheriff looks up at the pale-pink manor house with its two timber wings.
T-Bone smiles and says, ‘What do you think?’
‘You don’t know.’
‘I know that, too.’
‘Moodyson’s here in case you infringe my constitutional rights as a sovereign citizen and free man.’
‘Is she now.’
‘I want to find this young girl, T-Bone. In all seriousness, I want to help find her.’
‘If I hear something I’ll make sure it gets back to you. Best I can do.’
‘I appreciate it.’
The Sheriff takes T-Bone aside and says a few words into his ear and then heads back to his taxi. He drives away leaving a cloud of dust in his wake.
‘Man’s a fool but he means well. Not got a bad bone in his body, the Sheriff.’
And then T-Bone’s head snaps around to face the manor.
‘You hear that?’
‘No,’ I say.
‘Just concentrate harder.’
Normally I’d bite back at that comment, but I can hear something faint in the distance.
‘Music?’ I say.
‘Violin. Eighteenth century, made in Austria.’
‘Wow, you know your music.’
‘Not really. I just know his music.’
I stare at the manor house.
‘Who? Where is he?’
T-Bone closes his eyes and looks like he’s meditating. Then he opens his eyes, the sunlight dancing across his pupils, and he says, ‘Abraham plays his violin at the rear of the main house. He’s got a terrace for the purpose, all shielded with the right kinds of trees for good acoustics. If you were to be on a riverboat passing by you wouldn’t see him or nothing but you’d be treated to the best concert of your entire lifetime.’
My phone vibrates in my pocket.
The violin music intensifies and blends with the song of blackbirds and the caws of hooded crows.
A message from Elsa’s friend, Kristina; the one I found on Facebook. The message says, It’s me.
The violin grows louder still and the dogs start barking in their gated compound.
Another message from Elsa’s friend.
T-Bone looks at me as I read it.
They’re all lying to you, she says. Every last one of them.
I climb into my Hilux, sync my phone to my hearing aids and call Kristina.
‘Hej, it’s me. Tuva Moodyson.’
‘That was fast.’
‘You said they’re all lying? About Elsa? What do you mean?’
‘I can’t say over the… Like this, I mean.’
‘You want to meet somewhere quiet?’
‘I don’t have a car.’
‘In Visberg? Maybe in the square?’
‘The Grill. One o’clock.’ She ends the call.
In front of me, through my filthy windscreen, I can see a young woman in full camouflage walking away from the spa. Well, not full camouflage, half and half, I’d say. She has a desert camo jacket and shorts. And strong highlights: platinum blonde and honey and black. Red nails and lips. A cigarette in a cigarette holder, also camo pattern. Her legs are shiny and tan. Her face is tan. She smokes rings from her holder and then she pulls the cigarette out and drops it to the dry earth and extinguishes it with her leopardprint boot.
As I drive by she gives me a look of pure poison.
The road is empty save for a pick-up truck with a small house strapped down in its flatbed. Some kind of dog kennel painted elaborately to resemble a full-size human home. The windows have imitation geraniums, and inside there are net curtains. The roof has fake clay tiles, all of them joined together in one plastic whole. There’s even a letterbox in the tiny door. But the house is rotting away. Its gable ends are full of spider webs and there’s mud sprayed up one wall. It’s either an old dog’s last home or else a young child’s first. Life imitating life, and then decaying to the point where it becomes necessary to dump the miniature cabin deep in the woods for it to be consumed by nature.
I pass the man-made glacier, gleaming, shining in the sun, and drive on.
The drive up Visberg hill is not an easy thing for me to complete. The first time I tried it after Noora was shot, I had a full-on panic attack: hyperventilating, pulling over to vomit in the pristine snow of the ditch. That vomit stayed for three weeks, although gradually depleted by vermin and birds. I would drive up the big hill to work on a story about a new nature pond and the extension at the retirement home, or an article on how the rotating bee atop the Hive self-storage building has been renovated by a man down in Vänersborg, or how the snowberg was attracting Instagrammers and amateur ice-carvers, and I’d see the remnants of my panic attack down in the snow, frozen solid, and I’d go on.
Past the white bike, past the cross, over the abandoned train tracks.
Cresting the hill, entering the town. The place the world forgot. Never even knew it well enough to forget about it. The town Gavrik residents are afraid to visit. Visberg.
The town square is beautiful.
Full of apple blossom.
Clouds of whites and soft pinks bubble out from the gnarled apple-tree branches all over the square, eclipsing the bandstand and the statue of Edlund, the industrialist who founded the town. The petals move together in the April breeze like sea froth.
I drive round the square one time before parking because that’s become a tradition now, a coping strategy, another compulsion that I obey in order to get from the beginning of each day to the end.
Past the Grill and the gamer café and Konsum mini-supermarket on the bright side of the square, round past the Hive, a whole block’s worth of self-storage units, and then turning right to the dark side of the square, the dentist and the closed-down newspaper office and the empty pop-up shop and the clockmaker’s. I park outside the Grill.
The sign says ‘Visberg Grill, Pizza, Hot Dogs, Burgers. Established 1998.’
I open the door and the aroma of pizza-dough steam hits me straight in the face. People swivel to stare at me, eating with their mouths open, paper napkins tucked into plaid collars, motorcycle helmets resting on chairs, an infant in a pushchair beginning to scream and bark for her mother.
The menu screen is backlit. Every kind of pizza you’d never consider ordering, and a few you would.
I look around the place for Kristina. But I can’t see her.
‘Ah, Tuva, nice to see you, welcome. What can I get you?’
Luka Kodro’s in his trademark jeans and white T-shirt, always pristine.
‘I’m meeting a friend,’ I say.
‘In your own time, take a table if you like. No rushing, no panic.’
And then a young woman at the back, sat at a window table overlooking the vast forests of Visberg hill, the vista rolling out as if from an airship or balloon, stands up slowly and raises her hand as if in class. She isn’t blonde anymore, she’s a redhead.
I walk over.
‘Tuva?’ she says.
I offer her my hand and she just looks at it.
We sit down.
She looks down at her hands, tearing a paper napkin into smaller and smaller pieces.
‘Are you hungry?’
She shakes her head.
‘Well, I’m starving. Mind if I eat?’
I’m not particularly hungry, although Luka’s pizzas are very good if you stay well away from the crayfish and pineapple and peanut toppings. But Lena taught me that it’s important to put everyone at ease. And you have to adapt to each person, there is no single approach tha. . .
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