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From the acclaimed author of Snow Angels comes a new novel featuring Inspector Vaara.
Inspector Kari Vaara has left the Arctic Circle and returned- reluctantly-to Helsinki, where headaches and sleeplessness plague him. But he must work through the pain. He has two cases on his plate: the brutal murder of a Russian businessman's wife, and-more secretively-an investigation into an elderly Finnish national hero who may have played a darker role in World War II than the public knows. Vaara's past has turned him into a haunted man. The questions he's asking now may turn him into a hunted man as well...
The baby kicks against my hand and rouses me from my nap. Kate and I sleep spooned up. Her head in the crook of my shoulder, my head buried in her long red hair. Her tall, pale body pressed against mine. My hand draped over her, resting on her pregnant belly. Kate doesn’t stir. As she’s gotten further into her pregnancy, she sleeps deeper, and I sleep lighter. Now that she’s eight and a half months along, I barely sleep at all, just doze under the surface of waking consciousness. The sonogram said we’re having a girl.
I pull on a robe, wool socks and slippers, light a cigarette and go out to the balcony of our Helsinki apartment. Illuminated by streetlights, snow pours through the dark in wet, blinding sheets. Fierce wind buffets me, blows up under my robe, freezes my nuts, takes my breath and makes me laugh. I hang on to the rail to keep from being blown off to the sidewalk below. It’s minus twenty Celsius.
My home, Finland. The ninth and innermost circle of hell. A frozen lake of blood and guilt formed from Lucifer’s tears, turned to ice by the flapping of his leathery wings. I limp back inside. This kind of cold makes my bad knee go so stiff that I drag my left leg more than walk on it.
My head is splitting. I hobble to the bathroom, shake a couple Tylenol out of a bottle, chew them up to make them work faster, stick my mouth under the spigot and chase them with water. I don’t know why I bother. They don’t help anymore. The migraines started not long after Kate miscarried the twins a little over a year ago, and have gotten worse over time. I’ve had the same headache without a break for almost three weeks now. It’s starting to make me crazy.
I sit in a rocking chair by the bed and watch Kate sleep. As Dante’s Beatrice was his object of unconditional love, Kate is mine. Kate: my cinnamon–haired, fair–skinned snow queen. Kate: my beautiful American. Since I met her, Kate has been my beginning and my end. For me, there is only Kate.
Pregnancy has made Kate more radiant than ever. I feel a pang of guilt for our dead twins, and wonder again if I caused her to lose them. I wonder if she thinks about them as often as I do, and if she blames me for their loss. Kate begged me to give up the Sufi a Elmi case. She said the stress was too much for both of us. I refused.
I managed to solve the murder, but the attrition rate was high. Five dead bodies piled up before the case was over, including my friend and sergeant Valtteri and my ex–wife. Two women were widowed and seven children left fatherless.
And I was shot in the face. The bullet left an ugly scar, which could have been corrected with minor plastic surgery, but I refused. I wear it as a symbol of my guilt for failing to solve the case sooner. I could have spared all those people so much death and misery. In my mind, I see Valtteri pull the trigger. His blood and brains spray across the ice. The shot echoes around the lake. He looks at me with dead eyes and falls. His blood stains the pearl–gray ice and looks black in the murky light. I still refuse to talk about it. Kate believes I suffer from traumatic shock.
I pursued the Sufi a Elmi case to the exclusion of everything and everyone else. Even Kate. She miscarried two days later, the day after Christmas, and lost the babies. I blame myself. I believe the stress I caused her sparked the miscarriage. I’ve never told Kate about my guilt, can’t make myself vocalize it.
Kate was unhappy in the Arctic Circle, in my hometown of Kittilä. She wanted to move to Helsinki and start over. As a reward for solving the Sufi a Elmi murder, I was decorated for bravery and offered the job of my choice. I lived in Helsinki years ago, but left for a reason. My memories of this place are bad. Still, I owed Kate this, so we moved here and I took a slot in Helsinki homicide.
Kate’s brother and sister, John and Mary, are arriving from the States tomorrow evening. She hasn’t seen them for a few years, and I’m glad she has the opportunity, but they’re going to stay for weeks, to see Kate through the fi nal days of her pregnancy and help out after the baby is born. Who the hell does that? I never heard of a family doing such a thing. I can’t say it to Kate, but I don’t want them here. It will change the dynamic of our household. And besides, I want Kate all to myself during this intimate time. I don’t need any help taking care of my wife and child.
After a while, I go back to bed. I slide my arm under her head and she turns toward me, gives a sleepy little snort, then wakes up enough to look at me and grins. “Want to make love to me?” she asks.
“Yeah,” I say. “I do.”
Pregnancy and the attendant hormonal changes have lent a sharp edge to her libido, and despite the migraines, I’m happy to accommodate. I suffer an irrational fear that sex will hurt our child, and take her more gently than she might prefer. Afterward, she lays her head on my shoulder, continues her nap.
I wait until I’m sure she’s asleep again, before I move. She likes it if I stay awake in bed until she’s asleep. It makes her feel safe. I have the night shift, check the clock. It’s seven p.m. I have to be at work in an hour. I take a shower and dress. Kate is still asleep. I pull back the blanket, kiss her belly and cover her up again on my way out.
As I drive to Pasila police station, the streets are almost empty. I use my Saab for a winter play toy in the snow, cut the wheel hard to make the car slip sideways, accelerate to straighten it out again. Reckless endangerment.
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