Stockholm Sleuth Series Book 2
by Christer Tholin
Genre: Mystery Crime Thriller
In the crime novella SECRETS?, fledgling private investigator Elin Bohlander takes on what looks like an easy assignment — at first: to determine if her client’s boyfriend is having an affair with another woman. To do this, Elin follows him to a secluded cabin in the woods, where she soon discovers that what’s actually transpiring is stranger than anyone thought. Having ventured too far, she’s stumbled upon a hornet’s nest and put her life at risk. But it’s too late. Can Elin win the unequal fight against a gang of brutal child molesters?
SECRETS? is the second, standalone book from Christer Tholin’s Stockholm Sleuth Series. In the previous novel VANISHED?, Elin and her colleague Lars solve their first case together.
If you like fast-paced action and surprising twists and turns, then you will love Christer Tholin's sleuth series.
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Now back at her apartment, she had changed into something comfortable and eaten a snack. She was standing in the bathroom washing her hands when Maja came home.
“Elin!” Maja was screaming. The door to the apartment slammed shut. Maja’s bag made a loud noise as it landed in a corner, and her rapid footsteps could be heard crossing the living room floor. Elin hurriedly dried her hands. This was not at all like Maja, who was usually the image of calm itself. Something must have happened. Elin opened the door to see Maja standing before her, her hands on her hips. Her face was red; her breathing, quick and shallow. She stared at Elin, furious: “What have you done? Where did you go with my car?”
“Maja, calm down! What happened?”
“I will not calm down! I want to know where you went with my car. Damn it!” Her dark eyes flashed at Elin.
“Fine, no problem. I’ll tell you. Come on, let’s sit down.” Elin stepped toward Maja and tried to take her in her arms, but Maja pushed her away.
“What? I haven’t done anything to you. Whatever it is, I didn’t do it intentionally. What’s going on with the car? Is something broken?” Elin looked at her, distraught. She had never seen Maja like this before. Usually, it was Maja who had to calm Elin, not the other way around. “Come on, let me hold you in my arms. I love you.”
That seemed to work. Maja lowered her eyes, and her shoulders dropped. Elin put her arm around her and drew her close. What was going on? Maja was sobbing. She embraced Elin and held her tight. Her shoulders jerked, and she was howling like a hyena. God Almighty, this must really be bad. Maja seldom cried, and never this hard. Elin was getting seriously worried. What had happened here? After all, she had parked the car in the courtyard, and everything had been fine. Unless someone had tried to break in, but that would have happened later. And why did Maja think Elin was to blame? That wasn’t like her at all.
Gradually, the sobbing subsided. Elin led Maja into the living room and sat her down on the couch. Squatting down before her, she looked into her tear-filled eyes.
“Now tell me everything, and if I’m to blame, I’ll admit it right away. Promise! And I’ll formally apologize. But I honestly have no idea what could be wrong with your car. I borrowed it again the day before yesterday, but then I parked it in the courtyard, as usual. Everything was still fine at that point. I swear!” Elin raised her right hand.
The corner of Maja’s mouth twitched briefly into an unsuccessful smile. She dug around in her pants pocket, produced a tissue, and blew her nose. Then she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Luckily, she wasn’t wearing any makeup, or she would have looked even worse.
“I was attacked,” she finally gasped.
“What? Are you hurt?” Elin couldn’t believe it. Maja was extremely well trained—she could perform any self-defense move in her sleep. And what did this have to do with the car?
“No. They only threatened me.”
“That’s lucky.” Elin breathed a sigh of relief. At least, Maja was unharmed. “But who threatened you? Now please! Tell me the whole story from the beginning.” Elin gave her a penetrating look. “All right, Maja?”
Maja blew her nose once more and leaned back. “Yeah, OK. So I was walking out of the studio on my way to the underground. Since it was still so light out, I took the shortcut through the park. There was no one in sight other than that guy who’s been following me for the past few days. He was sitting on a bench in the middle of the park. I was trying to decide whether to turn around. But then I thought, ‘This is my chance to find out what this is all about,’ and I walked right up to him. He immediately stood up, and it was only then that I noticed he was wearing a mask. I wanted to go back right away, but when I turned around, there were three other guys standing before me, all with masks as well. I tried to escape to the right, but these guys already had a knife at my throat, and they were restraining me on all sides. Then they pulled me off the path and down into the bushes, and one of them whispered that I should keep my trap shut. I was sure they were going to rape me, and I was desperately trying to figure out how to break free. But then one of them—a tall guy, definitely over six feet—said that they just wanted to talk to me. I didn’t really believe that, but I waited to see what they would say.”
Elin stared at her, spellbound.
“I need something to drink,” Maja said.
Elin rose and went to the kitchen. She had an uneasy feeling for some reason. Four guys, of all things, and one of them very tall. That was surely no coincidence. But why?
Elin handed Maja a glass of water. Maja drank eagerly. “And what did they want?” asked Elin.
“They claimed I’d followed them in my car. And that they didn’t like having someone sneaking around behind them. This would be their first and final warning. If they saw either me or the car nearby again, our next meeting would proceed without a lot of talking. They said they’d make short shrift of me.” Maja had tears in her eyes again, and she let out several sobs. “I had to confirm that I understood. I obviously said yes. After that, one of them hit me in the stomach full force, and I blacked out. When I came to again, the four of them were gone.”
“God, how awful! I’m so sorry—I’m sure they were the same guys I was observing. I just don’t understand why they reacted so viciously. I’ve already put the whole thing to rest. Honestly, Maja, I didn’t want to pull you in. I’m sure it was me they were after.”
“Yeah, that much was clear to me by then. But did you go back to the cabin another time? You only told me about two surveillances. And the men didn’t see you at all, did they?”
“Well, yes, they did. The second time, they stopped briefly next to my—I mean, your car. I ducked right away, but they might have written down or photographed the license plate number. I’m sorry—that was my mistake. The first time, I did better and parked around the corner. I’m sure they didn’t see the car that time. Then the day before yesterday, I was there again for the third and last time because I just couldn’t get the whole business out of my head. I wanted to get through the surveillance quickly, so I drove the car down the dirt road to the fork where it turns off to the cabin. On their way back, they obviously drove by your car, but I was hoping they didn’t see it.”
Maja sighed. “But they did. Did you find anything out?”
“No, that’s why I put the whole thing to rest. The assignment is done. I just wanted to make sure one more time that nothing new had come up. But it was the same game as the other times: working together on their computers, four guys in two cars—nothing more.”
Maja was calmer now. Her breathing was steady again. “I’m sorry I lit into you earlier. It’s clear that it wasn’t your fault. I just needed to vent my frustrations on someone.”
“No problem. I probably deserved it, anyway. When I think of how they could have attacked me instead, then I know that I got off lightly with your tirade. But that should be a lesson to me: I’ll no longer use your car for detective work. I see now what comes of that. But tell me, can you describe these guys at all?”
Maja shook her head. “No. They all had on black masks, hoodies, jeans, and sneakers. The one who was following me earlier was wearing a brown parka, as usual—otherwise, I’m sure I never would have recognized him. And as I said, one of the other three guys was very tall. Aside from that, I didn’t notice anything special.”
Elin thought it over. “It fits in any case. I mean, who else could it be? I just don’t understand why they would make such a big deal out of it. If all they’re doing is playing harmless computer games, they wouldn’t have had such a violent reaction. Something about the whole thing stinks—I’ve had that feeling from the very beginning. Four guys who meet in secret in a secluded place several times a week ... that can’t possibly be harmless.”
Maja sat up. “You’re not really thinking of pursuing this further, are you? To be honest, I’ve had enough. I can usually put up a good fight, but four men armed with knives—I’d rather not risk that again. And I can tell you: they meant what they said.”
Elin raised both hands in defense. “Stop worrying! Under no circumstances do I want anything to happen to you. But it bothers the hell out of me that they could get away with this intimidation act so easily. In my view, our best move would be to bring in the police. They’d definitely find something interesting here—if only I knew what it was.”
“Thanks, but I really have no interest in dealing with the police. You know how overworked they are. And since nothing serious happened to me, I can imagine what priority they would give this incident. Also, if these guys ever caught wind that the police were involved, they’d get in their heads to make good on their threat. I really don’t need that, thank you very much.”
“Yeah, I know. But this situation doesn’t exactly feel safe, either. I mean, how do we know that they’ll leave us in peace, even if we just lay low? Think about it. You run across one of these guys by chance. You don’t even recognize him, but he alerts the others, and there you are again with a knife at your throat.”
Maja looked at Elin in horror. “Do you have to be so graphic? I’ve got chills running down my spine.”
“You’re right, though. It’s still a risk. Let me see how I cope with it. Ask me again in a few days—maybe I’ll change my mind. But please do not do anything without my consent! This thing concerns me now, too. You can’t make the decisions on your own.”
“All right, Scout’s Honor. I’ll discuss everything with you beforehand.”
Elin could easily understand Maja’s point. And she would keep her promise. On the other hand, her detective instincts had been aroused, and she wondered what lay behind this thing. Just what sort of plot were they hatching in that cabin?
Elin rose and walked to the window. She looked down at the entryway to the house on the other side of the street. There was no one there.
“At least, they seem to have called off their surveillance. I don’t see anyone there.”
“Sounds good. That’s something, anyway.” Maja made no effort to check Elin’s observation but instead went straight to the kitchen. “I need to eat something now. And a glass of wine would also be good. Now that I think about it, more like several glasses.”
That was something Elin could fully endorse. Right now, a little normalcy and relaxation were just what they both needed.
Stockholm Sleuth Series Book 1
To come to terms with his recent divorce, Martin, an attorney in Berlin, plans a peaceful vacation – two weeks in a Swedish summer house seem to be the solution. It won’t be peaceful, however, and those two weeks will change his life forever. He takes a liking to Liv, a Swedish woman whom he meets in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, they don’t get to have their first date – Liv disappears under mysterious circumstances. Martin begins his search but soon realizes he can’t find Liv in a foreign country by himself. He hires two private investigators, and their discoveries make everything seem even stranger.
The complexities in this suspenseful criminal case lead to a hunt across Sweden. Martin comes close to finding answers, but his search lands him in very real danger, eventually leading to the first deaths. Soon he‘s wondering if he can get Liv and himself out of this situation alive.
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“Damn, somebody’s coming. Quick, into the woods!”
They rushed behind the house and into the trees, where before them was a narrow path. Martin tried to keep his voice muted: “We’ll cut through the woods to my car. Follow me!”
He followed the wooded pathway for a short stretch, then veered to the right through the trees. It was muddy and difficult to negotiate; that meant they weren’t going to make headway very quickly. “We have to try not to make any noise.”
They moved slowly around the house. The vehicle had now arrived; it was the black pickup.
“Shit.” Martin cursed. Liv held on firmly to his shirtsleeve. “Shouldn’t we try to escape through the woods instead?”
“Do you know your way around here?”
“No.” Liv looked around. “How far is it to my summerhouse?”
“Liv, we’re in Dalarna, really close to your husband’s summerhouse.”
“What?” Liv opened her eyes wider and pressed her hands to her mouth.
Martin looked at her: “To my car?”
They kept moving cautiously through the woods, able to hear the driver getting out and going up to the house. It couldn’t be much longer until he noticed that Liv’s things were missing; then he would go into the cellar and…
Gradually they put more distance behind them and approached the driveway. Martin looked back and believed they could now leave their cover without risk. It went faster on the driveway; Martin’s shoulder ached with every step, but now was the time to keep his teeth clenched. Just as he unlocked the car, he heard a sound from the house. The man had come out the door and roared something that Martin didn’t understand. Liv looked at him with horror. As fast as they could, they climbed into the car. Martin started it; unfortunately, he still had to turn it around, and there was very little space to do so. Twice he backed up until he could finally drive off. At that very moment, the engine of the pickup revved behind them. He looked in the rear-view mirror; the truck was already approaching them. He hit the gas. The car reacted and lurched forward with a jerk. Martin drove as fast as he could; Liv was frightened; she held on to the armrest and looked around from back to front.
“I’m trying to.”
Martin pushed the pedal harder. The main road lay in front of them – he knew he wouldn’t make the curve at that speed. Even so he kept driving at the same velocity; a brief glance revealed the pickup directly behind them. The engine was loud, and the black steel fenders in front of the hood were coming dangerously close. At the intersection to the main road, Martin braked slightly, hoping to make it onto the dirt road without
landing in the ditch. Gripping the steering wheel with all his strength, the Audi swung around, and it looked like they would make it. But the pickup had other plans. It didn’t intend to make the curve. The driver swerved slightly to the right and rammed the Audi from the side just as they reached the bend. The Audi’s rear end slung around towards the woods. Liv screamed, both airbags deployed and Martin braked with everything in his power. The car came to a stop diagonally across the road.
Before Martin recovered his seven senses, the door was swung open, and he was staring down the barrel of a rifle. The man roared something in Swedish. Martin didn’t understand a word, but it was clear, nonetheless, what the man wanted. Martin got out and raised his arms. Behind him, Liv crawled out of the car. She said something to the man, who tersely roared back, and Liv fell silent. The man wore a green parka with a high turned-up collar. Other than that he wore a baseball cap. Because of this, little of his face was visible. Dishevelled dark hair and a large, somewhat red nose. With the rifle, the man motioned them to the pickup. He opened the hatch over the bed and said something. Liv scrambled in; Martin behind her. They had to lie down, then the hatch was closed tightly. Liv felt for his hand and held onto it firmly. The bed smelled like cement and leaves. It was cold.
The pickup started up, turned around and drove off.
A few minutes later, the hatch was opened again, the man directed them into the house, down the stairs and into the cellar. He motioned them to sit on the bed and looked around the room. The rifle was still pointing at them. The man cursed, kicked the table so that it flew over the threshold of the doorway, then he left the room. A key turned in the lock.
Martin and Liv looked at each other. Liv bent her head and laid it on Martin’s shoulder. She was crying. Martin put his arm around her.
He could think of nothing to comfort her. The situation was quite hopeless.
Already for ages he has been a great fan of crime stories and therefore, had the desire to write his own crime story with the characters acting in Sweden. This crime-fiction is now available under the title "Vanished?".
The crime novel starts at a slower pace - like Martin's holidays, but the tension goes up more and more. It comes to a number of surprising turns giving new impulses to the story. Apart from that, the lovely country Sweden is described with the view of a foreigner.
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