Zack

A Thriller

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About The Book

The gripping first thriller in a chilling new series from the reigning master of Scandinavian crime fiction—Mons Kallentoft, author of the acclaimed Malin Fors novels—is an instant international sensation.

Zack Herry is the golden boy who has stumbled into a career in the Stockholm police force. At night, he hangs out at the clubs, partying with the people he should really be arresting. He knows that it won’t last, but he can’t help himself, even as he starts being investigated by internal affairs. But when four Thai women from a massage parlor in Stockholm are found brutally executed and a fifth badly mutilated and dumped outside a nearby hospital, Zack must get his act together and try to figure out the motives behind the vicious murders, together with his partner, Deniz. Only one thing is for sure: more women will die unless they find the killer.

Excerpt

Zack 1
STOCKHOLM 2014

THE HEAT in the old shipyard is almost unbearable.

Spilled oil sticks to people’s shoes on the crowded dance floor, and the air is almost too humid for sweat to escape.

There are no windows, no one knows that the morning sun has started to light up the shabby brick walls. There is no closing time here, no last orders at the bar. The organizer keeps going for as long as he thinks it’s worth it—or until the police show up. It’s an ordinary Sunday night in the middle of June, but Stockholm’s nocturnal angels are beating their wings like never before.

The DJ slowly builds up the intensity and the speed of the bass gets faster. The dance floor responds with a cheer and the temperature inside the old assembly hall rises still higher.

A young man close to the center of the dance floor has stripped his top off. He’s dancing with the self-confidence of someone who doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. Some of his blond hair is stuck to the sweat on his forehead, and as he brushes it away the gesture is watched by a number of women. They scan his face, then move lower to his smooth athletic, naked torso. And like what they see.

Two women make repeated attempts to get eye contact with him. They’re in their twenties, one has a straight blond bob, the other long dark hair. They’re both wearing tight dresses that stop at the top of their thighs.

They’re whispering to each other, describing the way he looks as though he were a god, with his full lips and straight, prominent nose. Like the hero in some old-fashioned book for girls, or an ancient Greek drama. He glances briefly back at them. Nothing more. All he wants to do right now is dance. Surrender his body to the rhythmic looping music and free his soul from all thought and feeling.

He takes a swig from the bottle of beer clutched in his hand, looks around. Suddenly his face cracks into a broad smile and his eyes light up. He takes a few steps forward and stumbles over a cable, but regains his balance and heads toward the dark-haired woman. For a few brief seconds she seems to be wondering what to say to him, then she gets pushed aside by a thickset man in a black vest forcing his way past her from behind. The two men raise their right arms in the air and their palms meet in a powerful slap. They embrace, and the thickset man says something into the blond man’s ear. He nods in response and they push their way off the dance floor.

THE MEN’S rooms stink of piss from the rusty trough of the urinal, and the tiled walls are covered with tags and stickers advertising underground clubs and obscure websites.

The door closes behind them and the noise is muffled to such an extent that they no longer have to shout in each other’s ears. The bare-chested man grabs hold of his friend’s huge shoulders and gives him a gentle shake.

“Fuck, Abdula, it’s good to see you! I was starting to think you were never going to show up.”

“Oh, you know, had some things to do.”

“At this time of day?”

Zack looks at his watch. Three thirty-five.

“You’re working late.”

Abdula smiles.

“Whatever it takes to get good stuff for my friend.”

He opens the door to one of the three cubicles and makes a theatrically low bow.

“After you, Monsieur Herry.”

The toilet lid is covered with little scratches from razor blades and other sharp objects. Abdula empties a small transparent bag and chops the contents up with a Visa card from Nordea Bank. Zack can’t help looking at the card as the cocaine is cut.

“KHAN, ABDULAH,” it says below the sixteen digits.

He knows that his friend actually spells his name differently, but the Tax Office managed to get both names wrong when the Kahn family arrived in Sweden in 1993. Years later Abdula tried to get them to correct their mistake, which they were prepared to do—for several thousand kronor. Abdula chose to carry on having his name misspelled.

“There you go. Dig in!” he says, passing a thick pink straw to Zack.

Zack looks at his friend in surprise.

“What the fuck’s this? Have you started snorting coke with straws from McDonald’s?”

“Not McDonald’s. Theirs are too long and thin. This one’s from the new milk-shake place at Hornstull. They’re a bit too long, so I cut them in half. Then they’re the perfect size.”

“Yeah, but what the fuck, why use straws at all? Pink ones, at that?! What happened to the chrome tube you had in that gorgeous little case?” Zack asks, with sarcastic stress on the word gorgeous.

“The cops, you know. If you’ve got something like that in your pocket, they go ballistic at once, even if you’re completely clean.”

“Yeah, yeah. Give it here, then,” Zack says, snatching the straw.

He lowers his nose to it and inhales sharply as he moves the straw along the line.

They sit on the cramped cubicle floor next to the toilet for a while, just looking at each other as they wait for the cocaine to kick in.

Thoughts become focused again. Vision gets clearer. Everything’s fine. Everything’s great. The world has sharply chiseled edges.

Zack looks into Abdula’s eyes. He knows plenty of people, but only has one real friend. And they’ve been through a hell of a lot together. Years of madness, hardship, and constant struggle. And love, brotherly love.

I’d take a bullet for you, Zack thinks.

He feels his chest lurch at the thought. Abdula meets his gaze and it’s as if he can read his friend’s mind. He nods gently back at him.

BACK ON the dance floor. There’s hardly any oxygen left in the hot, sticky air. The boundary between agony and ecstasy is slowly dissolving.

The monotonous beat is driving Zack crazy. Crazy in a good way. His chest is dripping with sweat and his blond hair is getting curlier in the humid air. Two girls are dancing right next to them. The blonde and the brunette. Shoulder bumping against shoulder. Thigh against thigh. The music is pumping. Another visit to the toilet. Four people squeezed into the cubicle. The Visa card like a woodpecker on the toilet lid. The girls giggle. Take the first lines. Their low-cut tops hide virtually nothing as they bend over. They toss their heads back, their hair flying, and instinctively put their hands to their nostrils. Straighten up. Bodies pressed tightly in the cramped space. Lips meeting. Tongues.

“DID HE use his tongue when he kissed you?”

The three Asian women are giggling in delight on the shabby sofa in the living room of the apartment out in one of the mass-housing projects in Hallonbergen. The Mekong whiskey has had the usual effect. The atmosphere is considerably lighter now.

“What a question! I’m not saying,” says the young woman kneeling on a cushion on the other side of the coffee table, but her shy smile gives her away.

“But, Mi Mi, you’re only eighteen,” the oldest woman in the room says, pretending to be upset, and the other two women giggle again.

“Unless perhaps you were only seventeen when it happened?”

“No, I’d had my birthday. It was in October. October sixteen,” she says, losing herself in the memory.

Four tea lights are floating in a dish of water on the table, spreading a shimmering glow over the terracotta-colored wallpaper. The room smells vaguely of coriander, chili, rice, and dried fish after the evening meal.

The rice whiskey on the table is starting to run out, as is the two-quart bottle of Coca-Cola. The last bag of chips is empty.

The women are tired, their bodies ache. They ought to get some sleep, but it’s good to sit up late and just relax for a while. They talk almost exclusively about life back home, about the ongoing floods that have struck so many villages in their old home district, about the children living with grandparents.

But it hurts, talking about their children and families. They never feel farther from home than when they do that. It’s nice to focus on an eighteen-year-old girl’s romantic concerns instead.

Forty-three-year-old Daw Mya leans forward and refills her glass. A bit of Mekong at the bottom, then plenty of Coke. She turns to Mi Mi.

“Any more for the queen of tongue kissing?”

Mi Mi blushes and the others giggle loudly once again. She remembers the evening by the river. The way Yan Naing’s body seemed simultaneously hard and soft. Warm as the night around them. His lips and tongue even warmer, as moist as the rain on the first days of the monsoon.

THE WOMEN’S laughter spreads through the summer night from the open living-room window. A lone man is marching with firm strides along the path below. He looks up briefly toward the window before taking a shortcut through the playground toward the door.

A broken swing is spinning slowly on its one remaining chain. On the rotting wooden frame of the sandbox there are fragments of green glass from a broken bottle.

The apartment block is large and unwelcoming, like a concrete bunker. One of a row of identical buildings. Beige brick façades, dark gray balconies. Satellite dishes everywhere.

The elevator is out of order, but he would have taken the stairs even if it had been working. Doesn’t want to make more noise than necessary.

Somewhere a dog is barking. A bag of trash outside a door on the third floor spreads a smell of rotten fish through the stairwell. He goes up one more floor and stops outside a door on which someone has sprayed the words DEATH TO ALL NIGGERS in black paint. There’s nothing else on it. No number, no name, just the gluey remnants of a torn-off nameplate on the mailbox.

He pushes the handle down cautiously, expecting it to be locked, but the door swings open.

The living room is hidden from the hall, but the women’s chatter can be heard clearly through the doorway to his right. He sees flickering light on the wall, then a gilded Buddha on a shelf, surrounded by four tea lights in lilac candleholders.

Mi Mi stiffens when she sees the strange man step into the room with a pistol in his hand. She wants to scream but can’t, and when she realizes that it’s too late—that everything ends here—a rapid sequence of memories flashes through her head. Splashing and laughter as she swims in the Gyaing River with her cousin Myat Noe, her first trip to the big market in Pa-an, the rain on the day of her exams, Grandma’s wrinkled hands in her hair, Yan Naing’s hands on her body, and his friendly, hungry eyes, the look she wants to remember forever. And then the light of the street lamps flickering past the gap in the tarpaulin covering the back of the truck after she had said her tearful farewells to her family in the camp.

Farewell to Yan Naing.

It’s so cramped and uncomfortable lying there with all those strangers. The lights flicker past faster and faster.

IN THE end the flickering light of the stroboscope gets to be too much. The lightness induced by the cocaine has faded and Zack can feel everything getting too close, bodies, sweat, desire. He says a quick good-bye to Abdula, then swerves elegantly through the dancing crowd and practically runs down the heavy old wooden staircase toward the big metal door. A bouncer with steroid-pumped biceps pulls it closed behind him and the noise finally shrinks to a muffled thud, and he suddenly finds himself in the middle of a dreamlike summer’s morning.

Daylight, sunshine, birdsong.

He takes deep breaths of the fresh summer air, astonished at how beautiful the morning is and how alive the world feels. Then he starts to walk toward the city. A cool breeze from the sea caresses his face and bare chest, making the hairs on his arms stand up. Then he remembers that his top is still hanging on a railing back inside.

He hesitates for a moment. Should he go back and get it, force his way back into that boiling cauldron of sweat?

He looks up at the enormous building he has just left and suddenly feels very small. Huge, solid, and industrial, it looms above him in an almost eerily oppressive way. A remnant of a former age that refuses to surrender its pride. That refuses to recognize that there’s no need for heavy industrial complexes at this latitude.

The large lettering on the wall has almost peeled off, but the outline is still legible.

HERALDUS.

Zack wonders why the powerful industrial conglomerate has left the building to stand derelict and decaying. As a memorial to a bygone era, perhaps? Or a monument to a failure that mustn’t be forgotten? Maybe it was just an illustration of the company’s fabled ability to change direction rapidly: okay, there’s no more money to be had here. Let’s pull down the shutters and move on to the next gold mine.

The muffled thud of the bass is making some windows toward the top of the building rattle. He wonders if the company’s management knows that the old shipyard has been transformed into a sweaty underground club.

He turns around again and carries on toward the city. His T-shirt can stay where it is.

Thin strands of steam rise from the tarmac as it heats up in the morning sunlight. The water lies motionless beyond the reeds. On the other side of the inlet there are huge houses, row upon row of them. Luxurious new buildings with panoramic windows facing the water. Old stone buildings that look like manor houses, with heavy pillars holding up the roofs above their doorways. Overblown white motorboats moored at private jetties.

Who lives like that? he thinks. Rock stars? Hockey players who’ve moved back home from Canada?

No, probably people with real power. Rich families with generations of greed and ruthlessness behind them. The sort who would have done business with the Nazis, like the Wallenbergs.

Damn.

Eight minutes later he’s sitting in the back of a taxi, resting his forehead wearily against the window. The sound of the tires on the tarmac is soporific.

A couple of police cars go past in the opposite direction. A succession of unimaginative apartment blocks flickers past, as tightly packed as those bodies on the dance floor. Like the buildings where he grew up. Places that seemed to be built for gray anonymity. For people who don’t belong.

People who just have to be stored somewhere.

People kept in the dark.

Like him and his dad.

He had been six years old when they moved out to Bredäng from Kungsholmen in the city center. He remembers how his dad had done his best to make the whole thing sound exciting, telling him that they were going to live right at the top of a big building, and would be able to see for miles.

“Even the stars will seem closer,” he had said. “And you’re going to have so many new friends.”

Zack had been beaten up out in the yard on the second day. He lied and said he’d been hit on the nose by a football. Then he had asked:

“Dad, why did we move here?” even though he already knew the answer.

Because Mom was dead.

He remembers how his dad had tried to explain. Talking about money. Zack didn’t understand it all at the time, but enough of it. They had a lot less money now, and that meant they could no longer live in the center of the city.

Only people who were rich were allowed to live there.

The concrete is replaced by vegetation again, woodland on both sides of the road now, the water visible through the trees on the right. Out onto Highway 222, so empty at this time of day it feels almost unreal. Into Kvarnholmen, looping around Henriksdalsringen’s monumental apartment blocks up on their hill. Across the bridge to Södermalm. Past the quay where the Finland ferries lie ready to receive their next cargo of passengers eager to enjoy the fake luxury and the opportunity to be unfaithful to their partners. Past the junction at Slussen, then along Skeppsbron in Gamla Stan. Shimmering water everywhere. The view toward the island of Skeppsholmen, its buildings clambering out of the rocks, is like a strange mirage from another time.

The taxi has the streets to itself and the city center goes past in a flash. Into the smart district now, Östermalm. Heavy stone buildings, old money, power passed down through the generations. Zack’s stomach clenches slightly, the way it always does when he’s here.

The taxi swings into a cul-de-sac close to Humlegården and stops outside a smart white four-story building from the turn of the century, with stone walls and a black iron gate. Zack hands over some crumpled hundred-kronor notes to the driver and jumps out. The black metal gate swings open without a sound. He closes it behind him, follows the path across the neat lawn, and opens the heavy oak door. It never ceases to amaze him that there is no coded lock on the building.

“That’s because there are mostly diplomatic offices here,” she always replies. “It would make things too complicated.”

But still. What a paradise for the homeless. Especially in the winter.

Occasionally he toys with the idea of spreading a rumor, so that the suited men with their briefcases have to climb over sleeping drunks and zigzag between pools of vomit and piss when they go to work each morning. It would do them good.

He opens the gate of the old Asea elevator and sits down on the green leather seat as he is carried up to the sixth floor right at the top of the building. There are only two doors up there. One leads to the attic. He rings the doorbell on the other one.

A woman of about thirty, with tousled hair, steel-rimmed glasses, and a thin, black silk dressing gown opens the door.

Mera Leosson.

Her sharp cheekbones stand out clearly against the whitewashed walls of the hall, and she tilts her head slightly as she studies his face with a confident eye.

She walks up to him and gives him an intense kiss that she concludes with a little bite of his lower lip. Then she takes his hand and leads him through the spacious white hall, where works of art by Americans like Richard Aldrich, Justin Lieberman, and Gerald Davis fight for attention. Zack likes Davis’s mad tableaux, mirrors for all the desires that can exist inside a person. And he knows how proud Mera is of the paintings.

They go through the large sitting room with its tasteful mixture of eighteenth-century furniture and modern Danish design, with more contemporary art on the walls, and into the bedroom with its vast, bespoke, handmade bed that cost roughly twice what Zack earns in a year.

Mera takes her glasses off, opens her dressing gown, and pushes him backward onto the bed.

HER HEAD hits the floor with a bang. Half of Mi Mi’s face is gone and the woman next to her can no longer scream because her mouth is full of fragments of brain tissue.

The man pulls the trigger again. The silencer makes the shot sound more like someone hitting a punching bag than a bullet firing, and he feels the pistol jerk as another woman flies backward when the bullet hits her high in the chest.

Two of the women are lying on the floor now. A third has ended up halfway off the sofa with her legs at an odd angle.

Only one left now.

The oldest hag.

Does she even know how filthy she is?

And the noise she’s making! Bitches shouldn’t make a fuss. Women are always like that, all women, chattering and babbling, wanting attention, and sometimes you have to let them have it, even if you’re only pretending.

But not here.

Not now.

The filth is going to be swept away here, and silence will reign.

She carries on screaming a load of words he doesn’t understand, looks at him, and clasps her hands together, shaking them in front of her as if in ecstatic prayer.

Like that’s going to help.

SHE’S LYING on her back as he traces his way over her with his tongue, with all of his fingers, and her skin is warm and moist with sweat.

He closes his eyes. Uses his other senses, feels her tiniest muscles cramping, and he likes the fact that he can bring her to this, that she can take him to this place, this moment, that belongs to them alone.

He rolls her over onto her stomach.

Kisses the back of her neck.

Spreads her legs.

Pushes deep into her heat.

But that’s too gentle for her.

She thrusts herself back. Bouncing herself off him. Harder. Then harder still.

Until it hurts.

But Mera wants it like that. Wants it to hurt, until everything becomes a glowing, fluid now with no real boundaries.

She screams out loud as the first wave washes over her. Zack is supporting himself on his arms, his hands and fingers splayed out on the silk sheet. He pushes her down. Thrusting hard. He’s getting close now as well.

Their bodies slap against each other.

He shuts his eyes.

No.

Not again. He doesn’t want to see those images in his mind, not now.

He can see her fair hair and black-and-white face in the photographs as she’s lying on the ground. The gaping black opening just under the tip of her chin.

The bloody knife lunging through the air, the last bullet whining, drooling wolves’ jaws hunting through the darkness. Everything explodes.

Then it’s over.

But it’s never over. The darkness is never over. The light that was once there, in his mom’s blond hair, no longer exists.

He can see a smiling woman looking up at him with clear eyes.

He lies down beside her. Breathes out.

She twines one of her long legs around him and whispers in his ear:

“Zack Herry. Zack Herry. Zack Herry.”

About The Author

Photograph by Mia Carlsson

Mons Kallentoft is the author of the internationally acclaimed crime fiction series featuring Malin Fors. The series has been translated into twenty-six languages and has sold more than 1.5 million copies. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books (January 2018)
  • Length: 480 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781476788135

Raves and Reviews

"Fallible, fullbodied characters drive an absolutely riveting plot by acclaimed crime-fiction writer Kallentoft in collaboration with biographer Lutteman. Top-notch Swedish noir."

– Booklist (starred review)

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