When a young woman is found dead, the police are quick to respond. But what they find at the murder site is unexpected. The body is posed, the scene meticulously set. And there is almost no forensic evidence to be found.
Detective Mia Krüger is a woman on the edge – she has been signed off work pending psychological assessment. But her boss has less regard for the rules than he should. Desperate to get Mia back in the office, Holger Munch offers her an unofficial deal.
But the usually brilliant Mia is struggling and the team are unable to close the case. Until a young hacker uncovers something that forces the team to confront the scope of the murderer’s plans and face the possibility that he may already be on the hunt for a second victim.
Read on for an extract from The Owl Always Hunts at Night!
The Owl Always Hunts at Night
The little girl lay as still as she could on the sofa under the blanket while she waited for the other children to fall asleep. She had made up her mind. She would do it tonight. She would be scared no longer. Wait no longer. She was seven years old and very grown up. She would leave once it started to get dark. She had not swallowed tonight’s sleeping pill. Just pushed it under her tongue, where she had kept it when she showed Aunt Julia what a good girl she had been.
‘Good girl. Next.’
Her brother had been doing it for a long time. Ever since the time they had locked him in the beaten-earth cellar. Every night he would hide the pill under his tongue without swallowing it.
‘Good boy. Next.’
Three weeks in the dark for refusing to say sorry. All the children knew that he had done nothing wrong, but the grown-ups had put him in the cellar all the same. Since that time he had changed. Every night he would slip the pill under his tongue without swallowing it and, as her own pill started to take effect and she grew sleepy, she would see his shadow tiptoe out of the room and disappear.
The little girl waited until she could hear that the other children were asleep before she sneaked out of the house. It was winter now and still warm, though the twilight had settled softly between the trees. The little girl walked barefoot across the yard, keeping to the shadows until she was hidden by the trees. Having made sure that she had not been spotted, she had run along the track between the big trees down towards the gate that bore the wording ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted.’ This was where she had decided to start her search.
She had heard her brother and one of the other boys whisper about this. An old, ramshackle shed, a small, forgotten cabin on the far side of the estate, but she had never seen it herself. They were woken up at six o’clock in the morning every day and went to bed at nine o’clock every night. Always the exact same routine, no variations, with only two fifteen-minute breaks from lessons, homework, yoga, laundry and all the chores that had to be done. The little girl smiled at the sound of the crickets, and she felt the soft grass tickle her feet as she veered from the path and moved cautiously along the fence towards the place which she, in her mind’s eye, had decided must be the likely location of the cabin. For some reason, she was not scared. She felt almost light; the terror would not set in until later; right now she felt happy, free as a bird, all alone with her thoughts in the beautiful forest which smelt so good. She smiled broadly and trailed her fingers over a plant that looked like a star; it was almost like being in one of the dreams she often had when the pills they were given were not very strong. She ducked under a branch and did not even jump when she heard rustling in the bushes a short distance away. Perhaps a koala bear had ventured down from the trees. She giggled to herself and wondered what it would be like to pat one. She knew that they had sharp claws, and that they were not cuddly at all, but she tried to imagine what it must feel like, anyway, the fluffy, warm fur between her fingers, the soft nose tickling her neck. She had almost forgotten why she had come outside, then suddenly remembered and stopped in her tracks when the wall of the cabin came into view only a short distance ahead of her. The little girl tilted her head and studied the grey wooden boards. So it was true. There was a place in the forest. A place where you could hide. Be on your own. She crept cautiously closer to the hut and felt a delightful tingling under her skin as she approached the door.
The little girl did not know that the sight which awaited her would change her for ever, that it would haunt her every single night for years to come: under the blanket on the hard sofa, on the plane crossing the globe after the police discovered the crying children, under the duvet in the soft bed in a new country, where the sounds were different. She knew nothing about this as she reached out her hand towards the wooden handle and slowly opened the creaking door.
It was dark inside. It took a few seconds before her eyes allowed her to see properly, but there was no doubt. At first just an outline, then everything came into focus; he was inside.
He wore no clothes. He was completely naked. Completely naked, and yet his body was covered by . . . feathers? He was curled up in a corner, a birdlike, crooked creature from another world, with something in his mouth. A small animal. A mouse? Her brother was covered in feathers and held a dead mouse between his teeth.
This was the image that would change her life. Her brother turned slowly and looked at her, his eyes filled with wonder, as if they did not know who she was. The light fell through the filthy window across his feather-clad hand, which was moving gradually through the air. His mouth turned into a grin over glistening white teeth as he took the mouse out of his mouth, locked his dead eyes on to hers and said: ‘I’m the owl.’
Tom Petterson, a botanist, took the camera bag from his car and paused to enjoy the view across the calm fjord before heading up to the woods. It was early October and the cool Saturday sunshine bathed the landscape around him in a pretty glow, soft rays falling across red and yellow leaves which would soon be shed to make way for winter.
Tom Petterson loved his job. Especially when he was able to work outdoors. He had been hired by Oslo and Akershus County to register findings of Dracocephalum, or dragonhead as it was also known, a plant threatened by extinction but which grew in the woodlands around Oslo Fjord. He had received a fresh tipoff via his blog, and that was his task for today: log the number and exact location of newly discovered specimens of this very rare plant.
Dragonhead grew to a height of ten to fifteen centimetres and had blue, dark blue or purple flowers which would wither in the autumn, leaving behind a cluster of brown seeds reminiscent of a cereal grass. The plant was not only rare; it was also home to the even rarer dragonhead sap beetle, a tiny metallic-blue beetle which fed only on these flowers. The miracles of nature, Tom Petterson thought, and could not help smiling as he left the path and followed the route which an observant amateur biologist had sent him. Sometimes – he never said it out loud, because he had been brought up to believe that there was absolutely no God, his parents had been insistent on that, but even so – he could not help marvelling at it: the wonder of creation. The delicate relationship between all things, from the smallest to the biggest. Birds flying south every autumn to nest, vast distances to the same place every year. The leaves changing colour every autumn, turning the trees and the ground into a living work of art. No, he would never say it out loud, but the thought would often cross his mind.
He turned right between two tall spruces and followed a brook up towards the location where the plants were supposed to be, smiling to himself again.
He crossed the brook and came to a complete standstill when he heard rustling in the shrub in front of him. Petterson raised his camera ready to shoot. A badger? Was that what he had heard? This shy animal was nowhere near as common as people thought. A good picture of a badger would be great for his blog, and it would make a nice story, some dragonheads and a badger, the perfect Saturday trip. He followed the noise and soon found himself in a small clearing, but was disappointed not to see any animals.
But there was something in the middle of the clearing.
A naked body.
Tom Petterson was so shocked that he dropped his camera and didn’t notice it falling into the heather.
There was a dead girl in the clearing.
There was a naked teenage girl in the forest.
Surrounded by feathers.
A white lily in her mouth.
Tom Petterson spun around, stumbled through the dense vegetation, found the path, ran as fast as he could back down to his car and called the police.