This is a bit of a departure for me as I’m not reviewing this book but posting an extract instead. The extract is the first two chapters of the book and having read those I have to say this appears to be a gripping and intriguing novel and one I wish I had had time to review.
Ordeal was released in the UK on 17th March and can be bought from Amazon or other retailers.
Twice she drove past the imposing white house and on the third lap stopped in the street outside.
The stately villa with its half-hip roof was located behind a white picket fence, and a privet hedge fringed by ancient trees with sprawling branches. Lattice windows revealed nothing but interior darkness. Larger than she remembered, it was really far too big for her. Nineteen years had passed since she promised herself never to return. Now she was about to move in.
She lifted an envelope from the passenger seat and shook out the key, tagged with a small plastic fob on which the lawyer had written her grandfather’s name on one side and the address on the other: Frank Mandt. Johan Ohlsens gate, Stavern.
He had held this same key, walked about with it in his pocket, fiddled with it, clenched his fist round it. She did not like to think of him as grandfather, and didn’t use that word. Instead, she thought of him as the Old Man, which was how she remembered him, although he couldn’t have been more than fifty back then: strong and well built with dark deep-set eyes, thick grey hair and a small white moustache.
One of the last times she had seen him was during a seventeenth of May celebration, Norway’s National Day. She had passed the house in the children’s procession, and the Old Man had stood on the glass verandah with his hands on his back, scowling through tight lips. She waved, but he had turned his back and gone inside.
Letting the key fall, she peered over at the house again, radiating coldness even on a hot July day like this. Snuffling noises from the child seat made her swivel round. “Are you awake, little Maja?” she said, smiling. “We’re here now.”
The girl gurgled and smiled, blinking all the while. Fortunately, she didn’t resemble her father. She had her own dark eyes and hair. “And my dimples,” she said, tickling her daughter’s chin. They would manage. In the past, it had been her and her mother. Now it would be her and her daughter.
She put the car in gear and drove to the rear of the house. Stopping in front of the garage she picked up the key again, clambered out of the car and took Maja from the back seat.
The entrance had a distinguished appearance, with pillars and ornamentation in the style of a century ago. The key turned easily in the lock. Inside, everything smelled clean and fresh and not stuffy as she had feared.
The lawyer had done as she had asked. All the furniture, household effects and personal belongings had been removed; everything that might remind her of the past. She entered the kitchen and moved on to the living room, where sunlight spilled across the floor and her footsteps reverberated off the bare walls. We could be comfortable here, she thought, gazing at the little park across the street. This enormous house could offer an excellent new start.
The wide staircase to the first floor creaked. She eased Maja to her other hip and entered what had been her mother’s room, lingering without really feeling any emotion before glancing at her watch. Quarter to ten. The removal van would arrive soon. She hurriedly checked the other rooms and dashed downstairs to inspect the rest of the house.
Hesitating for a moment she opened the basement door, switched on the light and took a few steps down the well-worn treads. It was down here that they had found him one day in January. He must have fallen from about where she was now standing. On the grey cement floor below she could sense rather than see a darker stain on the pale surface. They reckoned he had lain for three days before one of his friends had discovered him.
She was the only surviving relative, but had not attended the funeral or helped with preparations. At that time she had not realised she was the only heir to a million-kroner villa and the money deposited in his bank account. When she learned, her first thought was that she did not want any of it, it was so dirty. She would prefer to have nothing to do with it, but then it struck her: Why not? It would be crazy to turn it down.
She carried Maja further down into the basement, aware that the air down here was more oppressive than elsewhere in the house: a stale smell, like old fruit or flowers kept too long in a vase. One of the below-stairs rooms was fitted out as a bathroom and sauna, another kitted out as a home gymnasium. One side was lined with wall bars.
In the innermost room she found the safe. The lawyer had informed her that it had been left behind because it was not only large and heavy, but apparently also bolted to the floor. The cleaners had hoped to find the key, but it was missing. She had full confidence in them, since they had handed over almost thirty thousand kroner they had found tucked inside an envelope in a kitchen cupboard. Perhaps they had found more money lying about, but she felt sure they had not found and used the safe key.
The safe stood alone in the middle of the room, taking up a great deal of space and making it difficult to furnish if that proved necessary at some point. She shivered as she ran her fingers over the cold steel. Irritated that the key was missing, she hunkered down and pushed aside the small metal plate suspended over the keyhole, trying to peep inside.
A horn tooted outside and she looked at her watch again: ten o’clock. The removal firm was bang on time. Outside, she opened the boot of her car, lifted out a box containing the doorplate she had ordered at home in Oslo, and hung it on a nail beside the front door.
Sofie and Maja Lund.
As the removal men reversed into position a woman in the house next door peered out from behind checked kitchen curtains. Sofie waved to her but she did not wave back.
William Wisting stood in his bedroom doorway watching the woman who lay in his bed. Narrow bands of light flooded through the venetian blinds and across her face, but did not disturb her deep sleep.
He had worked with Christine Thiis for less than two years. She was fifteen years younger than him and had two teenage children. Following a divorce, she had left a well-paid job as a defence lawyer in Oslo and moved to Larvik with her offspring. Easy to work with, she was results-orientated, energetic and resourceful, and had a talent for making the right decisions at the right time.
When they spoke it was always about work, and she was less than expansive when it came to her personal life. When they attended conferences together, she always went home or straight to her room when the professional side was over. She never showed up after work if someone suggested a beer, and had never been present at a Christmas dinner. So, Wisting had been taken aback when she had accepted an invitation to a summer party at his house.
Her expression suggested she sensed his presence in the room. Wisting quietly re-closed the door and went downstairs to the living room. She needed to sleep it off. Nils Hammer had carried her up to bed, well into her second bottle of wine. The others had stayed until first light and the earliest birds began to sing.
He folded the blanket he had used overnight and tidied the cushions, collected the glasses and took them to the kitchen, filled the dishwasher and stood at the window looking at the bend in the road and the brown-stained house where Line lived.
Although not entirely comfortable with the reason for her moving back to Stavern from Oslo, and not best pleased that she had bought that particular house, he was glad to have her in the neighbourhood. The previous owner had been called Viggo Hansen and, eight months previously, he had been found dead in a chair in the living room. He had sat for almost four months without anyone in the vicinity registering the fact. Wisting felt that death permeated its very walls.
The thought of the dead man did not worry Line, which was actually typical of her. Fearless, she had a pragmatic disposition. Besides, it was a good buy. Circumstances meant that it sold for considerably less than its valuation, and when he visited yesterday he had seen few reminders of its past. Everything unnecessary had been torn down and thrown out. The kitchen, bathroom and one of the bedrooms had already been renovated. Now it was the living room’s turn.
His mobile phone rang somewhere. He found it on the coffee table, too late to answer. It was Suzanne though, her number still stored. Even after several months, seeing her name affected him. For a while they had lived together, but she decided to move on. Losing her weighed heavily on him, though not as much as losing Ingrid, mother of Line and her twin brother Thomas. Ingrid was dead and gone forever. Suzanne, on the other hand, was not far off, running a gallery and coffee bar in Stavern and living in the flat above.
He jumped when she rang again. ‘Hello,’ he answered, his mouth suddenly dry.
‘How are you?’
‘Are you at home?’
Wisting surveyed the room. Someone had knocked over a dish of peanuts. Espen Mortensen had placed several layers of toilet paper on the carpet in an effort to soak up beer spilled from an overturned bottle. Christine Thiis’ handbag was underneath a chair, its contents strewn across the floor. ‘Why do you ask?’
‘There’s something I need to talk to you about, and I don’t want to discuss it on the phone. It’s to do with the Hummel case.’
‘The Hummel case?’ Wisting repeated, though he knew exactly what she meant. Jens Hummel was a taxi driver. Both he and his vehicle had disappeared on the night before Friday 6 January, more than six months ago. The last person to see him had been a passenger dropped off outside the Grand Hotel in Larvik’s Storgata at 01.23. The case remained a mystery.
‘I can call in later this morning, before there are too many customers in the café.’
Wisting heard footsteps on the floor above. Christine Thiis must have wakened. ‘I’m on my way out,’ he said. ‘I can drop in on you.’
‘Before one o’clock?’
He glanced at the time, calculating how long it had been since he stopped drinking. ‘I can be there in an hour,’ he answered, and knew from the way she thanked him that there was a smile on her face.
He heard the sound of running water in the upstairs bathroom, crossed to the kitchen and took two cups from the cupboard. The coffee machine was humming faintly when Christine Thiis entered.
‘Hi,’ she said in a hoarse voice. Her chestnut brown hair was still dishevelled, but he could see that she had tried to tidy it. ‘Sorry, it …’
‘That would be nice.’ They sat on either side of the kitchen table. ‘Sorry,’ she said again. ‘That’s never happened before … I usually make my own way home.’ She drank from the cup and cleared her throat. ‘That is to say, I don’t usually go out. I’m not used to drinking alcohol.’
‘Then you needed it,’ Wisting said. He could see how uncomfortable she felt, sitting in the same clothes that she had worn when she went to bed. ‘You probably really needed to let your hair down. Totally relax and not think for a single minute about the children or work.’
‘But I should have made my way home.’
‘There was nothing waiting for you there anyway,’ Wisting said with a smile. He curled his hand round the coffee cup and understood again how good it is to sit with someone at the kitchen table. ‘I can drive you home later.’
She shook her head. ‘I can take a taxi.’
‘I need to go out in any case,’ he said. ‘Something’s cropped up in the Hummel case.’
Her eyes changed, shifting from slight embarrassment to total alertness. ‘Jens Hummel? We went over the whole case last week and agreed to shelve it. Is there something new?’
‘I don’t know yet. I’m going to meet someone who wants to talk.’
Christine Thiis leaned across the table. ‘What they said in the newspaper was all wrong,’ she said. ‘We really have done everything we could in that enquiry.’
She was referring to a newspaper article of the previous week. The disappearance had generated headlines in January as well, but not such enormous public interest. Jens Hummel had no close family to push the police and the press. Only a grandmother left alone with her loss.
When the media grew interested again, Wisting had hoped that the publicity would lead to fresh information. The time factor did not necessarily reduce the likelihood of a successful enquiry. In fact, it could allow rumour and gossip to spread in ever-increasing circles until it reached someone willing to talk. Fresh reporting could act as a trigger.
However, it had been angled extremely negatively against the police in general, and Wisting in particular as leader of the investigation. Nothing emerged about what specifically the police could have done differently, but the article gave a picture of low interest and substandard work. The lack of results spoke for itself. They had not even managed to locate Hummel’s car, and recently published statistics on increased traffic control operations were used to support assertions of poor judgment and wrong priorities. Their sympathies in the case did not lie with the police who were faced with such a difficult task, but with the grandmother who had lost her only grandchild.
Wisting was used to criticism and normally it bounced off, but this time he felt differently. It was a reminder of their failure, and how the Hummel case had originally made him feel anxious, creating a nagging sense of inadequacy.
‘Disappeared without trace has rarely been a more appropriate expression,’ Christine Thiis said. ‘You’d think with all our telecommunications networks, toll stations, taximeters and on board computers that we would be able to find something to tell us what became of him and his vehicle.’
Wisting agreed. He thought of the time spent investigating the Hummel case as days with no content. They had assembled a packed timeline for the twenty-four hours before the man vanished, but nothing pointed to his present whereabouts. In parallel, they had tried to form an impression of Jens Hummel as a person; it was a complex picture. He was thirty-four years of age and lived alone. He had worked in a variety of casual jobs until the age of twenty-five when he had started to drive a taxi. Five years ago, he had obtained his own licence and vehicle. Spending almost ten years behind the wheel had given him a wide network of contacts with very different people, most of whom they had interviewed.
Disappearance cases were always difficult, not only because there was no crime scene to examine, but also because it was difficult to unify a sprawling investigation.
They lingered over their coffee, discussing some of the most interesting theories. One posited a confrontation over narcotics. It was rumoured that Hummel had acted as a local courier and used his taxi to transport drugs. It was also suggested that he had picked up and delivered prostitutes, which had more or less been confirmed but had not led them any further.
Wisting looked at his watch. It was time to leave. In the car, their conversation turned to other topics, about the summer and their holiday plans.
‘I’m not going anywhere,’ Christine Thiis said. ‘What about you?’
‘I’ve promised Line to help with her renovations. She thinks I’m good at wallpapering.’
Christine Thiis looked pensive. ‘My children are going to spend four weeks with their father; it’ll be strange to be on my own for such a long time.’ Wisting turned the car into the kerb outside her house. ‘Thanks for the lift,’ she said, ‘and apologies again for not making my own way home last night.’
‘You must phone me,’ she said, placing her hand on his arm.
He met her gaze. She blinked both eyes before withdrawing her hand. ‘If anything comes of it, I mean. If you get an answer to what happened to Jens Hummel.’