- Published: 16 February 2021
- ISBN: 9781405934886
- Imprint: Michael Joseph
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 352
- RRP: $19.99
Hidden Iceland Series, Book Three
Hulda Hermannsdóttir opened her eyes.
So heavy and unrelenting was the sense of lethargy weighing her down that she felt as if she’d been drugged. She could have gone on sleeping all day, even here in her hard chair. It was just as well that, as a detective, she merited an office to herself. It meant she could shut the door on the outside world and wait for the hours to pass, either by staring into space or letting her eyelids droop. Meanwhile, the documents piled up on the desk in front of her. Since returning from leave two weeks ago she hadn’t got to grips with a single case.
This neglect hadn’t gone entirely unnoticed by her boss, Snorri, although, to his credit, he was treating her with patient understanding. The fact was she’d simply had to come back to work; she couldn’t bear to spend another minute cooped up in the house with Jón. Even the breathtaking natural beauty of their home on Álftanes couldn’t work its magic on her these days. She was deaf to the sighing of the waves and blind to the stars and Northern Lights shimmering across the sky. She and Jón hardly spoke to each other, and she’d given up initiating any conversations with him, although she still answered if he addressed her directly.
The February darkness did nothing to help. It was the coldest, greyest time of the year, and every new day seemed to bring a deterioration in the weather. As if things weren’t bad enough, the snow had been coming down heavily that month, burying the city in a muffling layer and clogging its arteries. Cars kept getting stuck in the streets, and it took all Hulda’s skill to navigate the unploughed back roads of Álftanes in her Skoda, despite its regulation studded tyres, before making it safely on to the main road at Kópavogur.
For a while she had doubted she would ever return to work. In fact, she’d doubted she would ever leave the house again, or find the strength to crawl out from under her duvet. But in the end there were only two options: to stay at home with Jón or sit in her office from dawn to dusk, even if she achieved little in the way of work.
Having opted for the office, she struggled to concentrate and instead spent her days moving files and reports from one pile to another, trying to read them but feeling unable to focus. Things couldn’t go on like this, she reasoned; they had to get better. Of course, she would never get over her guilt – she knew that – but the pain would inevitably be blunted over time. At least she could cling to that hope. But for now her anger towards Jón, far from dissipating, was growing and festering. With every day that passed she could sense the rage and hatred churning ever more corrosively inside her, and she knew that it wasn’t doing her any good, but she just couldn’t control her emotions. She had to find an outlet for them somehow . . .
When the phone rang on her desk, Hulda didn’t react. Lost in a dark, private world, she didn’t even raise her eyes until it had rung several times. Then, at last, moving sluggishly, as if under water, she picked up the receiver. ‘Hulda.’
‘Hello, Hulda. Snorri here.’
She immediately felt unsettled. Her boss didn’t usually ring her unless it was urgent. Their contact was normally limited to morning meetings, and he didn’t, as a rule, interfere much in the day-to-day handling of her investigations.
‘Oh, hello,’ she said after a slight delay.
‘Could you pop in and see me? Something’s come up.’
‘I’m on my way.’ She put down the receiver, rose to her feet and checked her appearance in the small mirror she kept in her handbag. However awful she felt, she was determined not to show any sign of weakness at work. Of course, none of her colleagues could be in any doubt of the state she was in, but what she dreaded more than anything was being sent on compassionate leave again. The only way to hang on to the shreds of her sanity was to keep herself busy.
Snorri greeted her with a smile as she stepped into his office, which was so much larger than her own. Feeling the waves of sympathy emanating from him, she cursed under her breath, afraid any show of kindness from him would undermine her hard-won self-control.
‘How are you, Hulda?’ he asked, waving her to a seat before she had a chance to reply.
‘Fine, fine, under the circumstances.’
‘How are you finding being back in the office?’
‘I’m just getting into gear again. Tying up the loose ends on some of last year’s cases. It’s all coming along.’
‘Are you absolutely sure you’re up to it?’ Snorri asked. ‘I’m perfectly happy to grant you more time o, should you need it. Of course, we need you here too, as you know, but we want to be sure you’re up to coping with the more challenging cases.’
‘I can understand that.’
‘And are you?’
‘Am I what?’
‘Up to coping?’
‘Yes,’ she lied, looking him straight in the eye.
‘Right, well. In that case, something’s come up and I’d like you to look into it, Hulda.’
‘An ugly business.’ He paused before frowning and emphasizing his words with a wave of his arm: ‘Bloody ugly, in fact. Suspected murder out east. We need to send someone over there right now. I’m so sorry to spring this on you so soon after your return, but no one else with your experience is free at the moment.’
Hulda thought he could have done a better job of dressing this up as a compliment, but never mind.
‘Of course I can go. I’m perfectly up to it,’ she replied, aware even as she said it that this was a lie. ‘Whereabouts in the east?’
‘Oh, some farmhouse miles from anywhere. It’s unbelievable anyone’s still making a go of farming out there.’
‘Who’s the victim? Do we know yet?’
‘The victim? Oh, sorry, Hulda, I didn’t give you the full story. We’re not just talking about one body . . .’ He paused. ‘Apparently, the discovery was pretty horrific. It’s not clear how long the bodies have been lying there, but they’re guessing since Christmas at least . . .’
I ’m not afraid of flying. The chances of dying in a plane crash for the average frequent flyer are one in eleven million.
Red and yellow leaves drift down through the sunlight on to the wet asphalt, which cuts through the woods like a dark and glassy river.
On Christmas Day 1996 a man was driving across the mountains on his way home from Oslo.
A bank robbery. A hostage drama. A stairwell full of police o¬fficers on their way to storm an apartment.