Jorn Lier Horst Excerpt: Ordeal

Ordeal by Jorn Lier Hors
Ordeal by Jorn Lier Hors
Tense and suspenseful, the only reason to stop racing through the pages of Jorn Lier Horst's Ordeal will be to pause for a quick glance over your shoulder (Available August 8, 2017).

Frank Mandt died after a fall down his basement steps, the same basement that holds a locked safe bolted to the floor. His granddaughter, Sofie Lund, inherits the house but wants nothing to do with his money. She believes the old man let her mother die in jail and is bitterly resentful.

Line Wisting’s journalist instincts lead her into friendship with Sofie, and Line is with her when the safe is opened. What they discover unlocks another case and leads Chief Inspector William Wisting on a trial of murder to an ordeal that will eventually separate the innocent from the damned.

1

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.

***

Copyright © 2017 Jorn Lier Hors.

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JORN LIER HORST (born in Bamble, Norway) is a former Senior Investigating Officer at the Norwegian police force. He made his literary debut as a crime writer in 2004 and is now considered one of the foremost Nordic crime writers. 

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