Under the Storm

A Novel

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February 27, 2024 | ISBN 9780593820667

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About the Book

A farmhouse mysteriously goes up in flames with someone trapped inside and a community is never the same in the aftermath—both a page-turning whodunit and a deeply touching coming-of-age story by one of Sweden’s top criminologists and a rising star in Scandinavian crime fiction (Kirkus Reviews)

The quintessential crime novel—I can’t recommend it highly enough.—Angie Kim, author of Happiness Falls

Carlsson is the finest crime writer we have in Sweden.—David Lagercrantz, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Girl in the Spider’s Web and other novels in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series


On a cold November night, a farmhouse burns to the ground. Inside a young woman is found dead—not from the fire but murdered. To the people in the rural community of Marbäck, this becomes a reference point: a before and after. For ten-year-old Isak Nyqvist, it sets in motion something he cannot control, igniting his future into an unpredictable inferno.

The police focus their attention on Edvard Christensson, the boyfriend of the murdered woman and Isak’s beloved uncle. After a quick investigation, Edvard is found guilty and sentenced to life in prison and Marbäck believes it can return to its innocence. Vidar Jörgensson, the rookie officer who first responded to the fire, prides himself on helping solved the murder. Little does he know this will become the defining case of his career and that it will drive him to the brink of professional and personal disaster—and link his fate to young Isak's.

A celebrated author and professor of criminology, Christoffer Carlsson digs deep into the psyches of ordinary people and shows how one crime can haunt a community for decades. A #1 international bestseller, Under the Storm is already a modern classic of Scandinavian crime fiction and demonstrates why many regard Carlsson as one of the great crime writers of his generation.
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Praise for Under the Storm

“When the body of a young woman was discovered in an incinerated farmhouse in 1994, resolution was swift—it was murder, her boyfriend did it, case closed. But for the boyfriend’s nephew, Isak; the arresting officer, Vidar Jörgensson; and the entire community of Marbäck, closure is a myth about to be shattered. The character trajectories (and tragedies) of Isak and Vidar have real narrative heft, but Carlsson also makes room to explore bigotry, misogyny and nativism . . . wonderfully translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles.”—Sarah Weinman, The New York Times

“A brilliantly woven, unsettling crime novel . . . Boasting the psychological intensity of a Hitchcock film . . . this is a gripping, utterly distinctive mystery by a newly established Swedish master. As in Blaze Me a Sun, Carlsson explores the nature of grief and generational trauma, all while keeping readers unsure of what’s going to happen next.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Under The Storm is the quintessential crime novel—not only a brilliantly constructed whodunit about the unfolding of a murder investigation over three decades, but a profound and immersive portrait of the ripple effects of one act of crime, judgment, and doubt on a community. Christoffer Carlsson is a master at layering nail-biting suspense with psychological depth and acuity, and I can’t recommend this book highly enough.”—Angie Kim, New York Times bestselling author of Happiness Falls

“[Christoffer] Carlsson is to the police procedural what Cormac McCarthy is to the Western.”—Anthony Marra, New York Times bestselling author of Mercury Pictures Presents and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

“A worthy heir to titans such as Henning Mankell [and] Stieg Larsson.”BookPage
 
“This slow-burning, masterfully constructed literary thriller from the author of Blaze Me a Sun (2023) and one of Sweden’s leading crime experts lays bare the haunting effects of violent crime.”Booklist
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Excerpt

Under the Storm

1

They say death takes you. It’s an old expression, from the time back when death was an actual character you could meet in the Marbäck forest or along the road. An ice-cold hand grabs you by the throat; a shadow expands around your body until you can no longer breathe. That’s how you picture it when you’re a child.

People say other things, too. There’s this word, used by old men and women around here. It comes across their lips like sinister smoke when someone is a little mean or nasty, when a place or thing has this unpleasant, uncanny feel to it: kymig.

He’s kymig, that one. Never liked him.

Don’t go there. That house feels so kymig.

I did something kymigt tonight.

That’s what people say. And, if you were to suddenly find yourself in some kind of danger, it’s not I don’t know what to do but I don’t know where to put myself. As if your first instinct is to hide.

Tonight, the flames are reaching for the sky. The weather forecast calls for a downpour, but not a drop of rain is falling. Everything is covered with soot and ash, and the big trees are getting singed. The smell of smoke drifts all the way up to Simlångsdalen, and into Skedala, over a mile away.

It’s an event people will remember, a reference point. It creates a before and an after.

Where were you when . . .

Was that before or after . . .

Down in Tolarp, the houses and farms are far apart. Closest to the Markströms’ house is Ulrika Antonsson’s farm. A big field separates their properties. Ulrika is the one who calls it in.

“There’s a fire,” she shouts into the phone. “The Markströms’ house is f***ing burning down! Send the fire department, the police, and ambulance, everything, fast as hell.”

She walks out into the November night and captures the fire in a photo. She’s not the only one to do so. Later they’ll get requests from the newspapers: The local paper’s photographers don’t arrive until the fire department has begun to fight the flames, so their pictures don’t turn out. Almost everyone refuses the offers, but Ulrika needs the money and secretly sells her amateur photos for a handsome price. Soon they’re everywhere. Her name is never mentioned in connection with them—they’re credited only as “reader photographs”—but everyone knows.

Great tongues of flame lick at the black night. The Markströms’ brown house is an old one-story wood-frame home, with small windows and a flat roof. The house has a woodstove and a gas oven, bad wiring and old electrics; its insulation is dry as a bone. Previously, these sorts of details weren’t widely known, but soon everyone is aware of them. If there’s anything people learn in the days following the Tolarp disaster, it’s that just about anything can set a house on fire.

Not everyone wakes up. Little Isak Nyqvist up on Svanåsvägen is fast asleep. His best friend, Theo Bengtsson, is too. Two miles away, in Officer Vidar Jörgensson’s front hall, Leo is pacing. The racket he’s making forces Vidar up to the surface until he opens his eyes and places the soles of his feet on the chilly floor.

The Labrador is waiting at the front door and barking like he hears an intruder.

“What’s wrong with you?” Vidar yawns. “There’s no one here.”

He opens the door. The dog peers out. The November air is ice-cold. Then Vidar smells it, too. When he walks onto the lawn he can even see the fire: At this distance it’s nothing but a glow, an orange dome rising over the tops of the fir trees.

“I see,” he says. “Good boy, Leo. Thanks for barking.” Leo shakes himself off and gazes at Vidar with big brown eyes.

“Well, let’s see.” Standing in the frosty grass, Vidar tries to guess how far away the fire is. “Yes, maybe. I’ll have to check.”

He goes back inside, gets dressed, and slips his feet into his heavy boots. He presses his lips to Leo’s soft head and gives him a quick scratch behind the ear, and then he takes off.

But he doesn’t have his uniform. He’s been wearing it for four years, and in that time he’s seen a lot. The uniform is important that way; it’s a shield. Or armor. The things you encounter stay within it.

Not everything, obviously. Sometimes you see the sorts of things even the uniform can’t protect you from.

Vidar walks along old paths edged by tall forest and open fields, small farms and houses. A little village seven miles east of Halmstad—that’s Marbäck. Those who grow up here are told they belong to a fortunate few. It’s probably true. Disaster seldom visits here.

The stink of the fire grows worse. The glowing dome expands. In the distance, sirens blare.

He passes the Marbäck farmstead and turns, heading over the small bridge and down to the area known as Tolarp.

There it is, roaring in the night, the Markströms’ house, ablaze. His eyes sting. The fire department and ambulance have arrived; so have Vidar’s colleagues. His heart beats faster and faster as he approaches the blue-and-white police tape. The incident commander, a stocky fireman whose name Vidar can’t remember, is talking to the ambulance crew.

“Is there anyone inside?” Vidar asks.

“It’s hard to get in, so we don’t know. But we don’t think so. The house is engulfed, so all we can do now is let it burn.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

“You’re a police officer, right?”

Vidar nods. “I live out here.”

The incident commander looks at the fire. Flames like living beings. “Help out wherever you can. Just stay away from the fire.”

Vidar makes his way to the ambulance and borrows an extra jacket. Over by one of the blue-and-white patrol cars, a colleague gives him a pen and notebook. In the glow of the flames he helps keep order, making sure the cordon isn’t breached and talking to the neighbors. Almost everyone is outdoors and looking in the same direction, seeing the same thing.

Ulrika Antonsson’s property is to the southwest. They’ve already spoken to her. To the north is Josefina Fransson’s farm. She bought it, livestock and all, from her elderly father a few years before he died. For the price of one thousand kronor. A symbolic amount. She’s fifteen or twenty years older than Vidar, but he’s always liked the look of her. Her mass of hair is shot through with gray, but her skin is almost smooth. She’s wearing jeans and an unbuttoned shirt knotted at her waist over a dark tank top that hides her heavy breasts. Those are his weak point, really. He’s aware of it, but there are certain things a person can’t quite help.

“I saw Lovisa come home on her bike,” Josefina says. “I think it was around five, maybe. You know, she works at Brooktorpsgården in town now, so she usually bikes to the bus stop and then back home again in the afternoon.”

All that’s left of the bike is a sooty frame.

“Did you see her after that?”

Josefina shakes her head.

“But her mom and dad took off later. I guess someone was turning fifty, so they’re at a party.”

“So Lovisa was at home?”

“I . . . I think so. But I don’t know for sure. I haven’t seen her since she got home.”

Vidar’s back is to the fire, but he can still see it. The flames are reflected in Josefina’s shiny eyes.

When he walks along the border created by the police tape, he stops short. There, in the grass, is a work glove. He turns toward the house. The flames aren’t as vigorous now, but they never made it over this way. Vidar runs his hand over the frozen grass. It’s untouched.

Vidar raises his arm and calls a colleague over.

“Uh-oh,” he says.

“Yeah,” says Vidar.

“I’ll get a marker. Will you stay here?”

Vidar stays put. It’s cold without his uniform on. His colleague returns with a numbered marker and carefully pokes it into the ground.

The glove has clearly been singed by the fire. At close range, you can also see the flecks of blood.

It takes some time for the chief inspector to arrive, but suddenly there he is, at the center of the action, leaning over a floor plan someone managed to obtain on the spur of the moment. That’s the kind of guy he is. Chief Inspector K-G Öberg is a large man, dressed like a woodsman in heavy boots, a knitted sweater, and pants with many pockets. He’s a good boss with a strong voice. His hair is thin and gray, his face round and puffy. His eyes, as they gaze down on Vidar, are candid, warm. Despite his size he can move without making a sound—you seldom hear him coming.

“Young Jörgensson,” he says, surprised. “Damn it, that’s right—you live out here.”

About the Author

Christoffer Carlsson
Christoffer Carlsson was born in 1986 on the west coast of Sweden. He holds a PhD in criminology from the University of Stockholm and is one of Sweden’s leading crime experts. Carlsson is the youngest winner of the Best Swedish Crime Novel of the Year, voted by the Swedish Crime Writers’ Academy, and has been a finalist for the prestigious Glass Key award, given to the best Scandinavian crime novel of the year. More by Christoffer Carlsson
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About the Author

Rachel Willson-Broyles

Rachel Willson-Broyles has translated Invasion, Strindberg's Star, Bad Blood, and Montecore. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin. You can learn more about Rachel Willson-Broyle at rachelwillsonbroyles.com

More by Rachel Willson-Broyles
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