By Sara Blaedel
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The Night Women
A journey to a new life or a prison of despair and death? A shocking murder on Copenhagen’s idyllic streets and an abandoned child reveal a perverse criminal underworld that crosses international borders.
A young woman’s body is found on the street with her throat slit, and the media is clamoring for the grisly details. Detective Louise Rick is investigating the gruesome murder when her friend Camilla Lind calls. Louise assumes it is because Camilla, a crime reporter, wants to be the first to hear of any juicy new developments. Instead, her distraught friend reveals that her ten year-old son found an abandoned baby on his way to school.
As Louise digs deeper into the murder and the mysterious foundling, every clue uncovered points to organized human trafficking from Eastern Europe, run by ruthless gangsters who won’t hesitate to kill anyone who gets in their way…
This gripping, heartwrenching, extraordinary new suspense novel from Sara Blaedel will keep you turning pages as fast as you can straight through to the electrifying finale.
For readers who have been following Louise's story all along, The Night Women takes us back to an earlier time in Louise's life, before the events of The Forgotten Girls. Louise is still a lowly homicide detective as well as a single woman living on her own, and she hasn't yet joined the Missing Persons Department of the Special Search Agency.
The Night Women was first published in English many years ago under the title Farewell to Freedom, though this new edition has been revised and updated.
To my readers new and old…I hope you enjoy it!
The woman was lying on her back, her arms out to her sides, her head tilted toward one shoulder. Her throat had been slashed in one long, straight slice, her blood saturating her blond hair, which spread in a sticky mass over the left side of her torso.
Assistant Detective Louise Rick straightened back up from her kneel and took a deep breath. Did anyone ever get used to this? God, she hoped not.
Darkness lay heavily over Copenhagen's Meatpacking District, the vast industrial tract between the train station and the harbor, where the city's slaughterhouses and meatpackers had sold their wares for centuries. It was almost two in the morning, so Sunday had already given way to Monday. Damp April air lingered over the Vesterbro District just west of the inner city, although the previous evening's rain had subsided. The flashing lights and police barricade that had been erected out on Skelbækgade were keeping most people away, but a few curious bystanders chatted as they watched the officers work.
A lone drunk sat on the doorstep of Høker Café, seemingly oblivious to the large police presence. He sang and occasionally screamed out whenever someone drove by. The girls who usually worked this street were nowhere in sight, likely having retreated to Sønder Boulevard or around the corner to Ingerslevsgade.
The bright glare of the large crime-scene spotlights created sharp contrasts of light and dark. One of the first things the team had done was to go over the surface of the body with tape to secure any fibers and loose hairs before swabbing for DNA with slightly moistened cotton swabs. Forensic pathologist Flemming Larsen turned to Louise and the chief of the Homicide Division, Hans Suhr.
"The incision is approximately twenty centimeters long, leaving a large, gaping wound across the entire throat. It's a deep cut with clean edges, which means the knife was drawn across the throat quickly, and only once."
Pulling off his rubber gloves and face mask, he nodded at the techs to signal that he was done so they could investigate the area around the murdered woman.
"There are no other signs of violence, so it happened fast. She didn't see it coming; there are no defensive wounds on her hands or arms. I would bet that it went down within the last three hours," he said.
"Do you have any clues as to who she might be?" Louise asked. They hadn't found any ID on the body.
"Well, don't you think we can assume we're dealing with a prostitute?" Flemming asked, his eyes resting on the victim's skimpy cotton skirt and tight top, before adding that he doubted she was Danish, given the poor state of her teeth.
"It's not a bad guess," Suhr agreed, taking a step back so that the techs could get by.
They moved the floodlight Flemming had been working under farther down the street so they could search the entire area for evidence.
Louise squatted down next to the woman again. The wound was high on her throat and went all the way around to her cervical vertebrae. It was difficult to make out the facial features in the dark, but she was obviously young—probably about twenty, Louise guessed.
She heard footsteps behind her, but before she could stand up, her colleague Michael Stig came to a stop right behind her and placed both hands on her shoulders as if for support. He leaned forward to inspect the body.
"Eastern European whore" was his swift assessment before removing his hands and allowing Louise to stand up again.
"What makes you so certain?" she asked, taking a step away from him to disrupt the physical intimacy he had forced upon her.
"Her makeup. They still do their faces the way Danish women did back in the eighties. The colors are too bright and there's too much of it. So, what do we know about her?" Stig asked, his hands into the pockets of his baggy jeans.
Louise caught the scent of her newly washed hair and fresh deodorant. She had been asleep for less than an hour when Suhr had woken her with his call, and she had left her Frederiksberg apartment and made it to the murder scene within twenty minutes. After almost five years as a homicide detective, she had a speedy routine for nighttime calls like this one.
"Not a thing," she replied tersely. "The local precinct received an anonymous tip about a dead body on Kødboderne Street behind the Hotel and Restaurant Management School, and then the caller hung up."
"So the caller must have had pretty thorough knowledge of this less than savory section of Copenhagen," Stig concluded. "Like someone who's a regular in this part of town."
Louise raised one eyebrow, and he explained:
"Only people who know the Meatpacking District fairly well would use one of the specific street names: Kødboderne, Høkerboderne, and Slagterboderne."
I wonder why you're so familiar with the area, Louise thought as she turned to join the others. Her partner, Lars Jørgensen, was off with some of their colleagues from the local precinct knocking on the doors in the apartment buildings on Skelbækgade whose windows faced the Meatpacking District. Another team was dealing with the people on the street as well as in the buildings immediately surrounding the scene. Even though the call had gone to the main precinct, formerly known as Precinct 1 on Halmtorvet, the case had been quickly turned over to the Homicide Division at Police Headquarters. Suhr had decided to call some of his own people in so they could be in on the investigation right from the start, but he had spared Toft, who had spent the weekend out in Jutland celebrating his sister's silver wedding anniversary. The chief said he'd figured he ought to let Toft sleep in after all the glasses of port and hours of brass band music that such an event would have required.
"Nobody has anything to tell us," Jørgensen reported. "Either that or they don't dare open their mouths. And strangely, it seems like no one has been anywhere near Skelbækgade in the past twenty-four hours. Not even the people Mikkelsen saw here earlier with his own eyes." He shook his head and yawned.
Mikkelsen was the local officer from the Halmtorvet station who was most knowledgeable about what went on in the Istedgade neighborhood with its prostitutes, pushers, and drug addicts. He was a short, stocky man in his midfifties, and he'd spent almost all of his many years on the force working this area. He had served one three-year tour with the riot squad before putting in for a transfer and getting his old office back.
"What about that guy over on those steps?" Louise asked.
"He said he hasn't seen anything except for the bottom of the last bottle he downed," her partner replied, repeating the remark a moment later when the chief came over and asked the same question.
"OK, nobody wants to say anything, so it's business as usual around here," Suhr said as he waved for Stig to come over and join them. "There's nothing more we can do right now. Mikkelsen and his people will continue interviewing passersby, but I doubt we'll get anybody to talk tonight. If any of the regulars around here saw anything, we know from experience that it will take time for them to share. So let's all get some sleep. We'll pick this up again in the morning."
"What about Willumsen?" Louise asked as they headed toward their cars. It surprised her that she hadn't seen the detective superintendent here yet.
"I'll brief him first thing in the morning," said the homicide chief, giving her a wry smile. "It's better to let him get his beauty sleep."
Louise nodded. They all knew what Willumsen was like when he got up on the wrong side of the bed. He had a bad habit of infecting everyone else with his lousy mood.
* * *
When Louise Rick woke again after four hours of sleep, she had a sore throat and her whole body felt sluggish. She had gotten up several times in the night, the image of the dead woman implanted in her mind's eye. She wondered why she had been killed that way. The deep wound in her throat seemed so aggressive, but the killer had come up on her from behind, so the woman likely hadn't had a chance to fight back. Thoughts drifted through Louise's mind, coalescing into more visuals from the night's murder scene. Again and again, she saw the nighttime shadows on the low, white-brick façades of the Meatpacking District, where butchers and delicatessen wholesalers served customers in the daytime.
Louise went to the kitchen to put some water on to boil before she climbed into the shower. She stood under the hot spray for so long that the whole bathroom was filled with steam before she felt ready to get out. Afterward, she sank onto a kitchen chair with a cup of tea cradled in her hands.
Suhr had announced just before they'd parted that there would be a briefing on the case at nine o'clock. Things had finally settled down again in their department after the big reorganization that had sent powerful shock waves through Police Headquarters. They had closed down both Division A, which had been in charge of homicides, and Division C, which had handled burglary investigations. Now everything had been reshuffled, dividing lines had been erased, and some of the most senior detectives had been moved elsewhere. And there was no longer room for all the assistant detective superintendents who had previously acted as team leaders. Which was why Louise had lost Henny Heilmann. Henny had been offered a job as lead detective at HQ and was now up in radio dispatch, stuck directing squad cars. Louise knew it had taken Henny quite a while to see the upside to her transfer.
Louise went into the bedroom and pulled a heavy sweater out of her closet. She was tempted to take the bus from Gammel Kongevej, but at the last minute mustered the energy to ride her bike.
The traffic on the bike path was heavy, full of morning commuters. Even so, she moved over into the passing lane as she crossed H. C. Ørstedsvej. Pedaling hard, she pulled her helmet down low to shield her eyes from the glaring spring sunshine that had suddenly appeared now that the rain clouds had drifted away.
* * *
"Just have the downtown precinct keep doing the interviews in the neighborhood, especially in the red-light areas that the johns frequent. It's likelier we'll get something out of a regular client who happened to know the victim than out of any of the hookers. Meanwhile, we'll focus on identifying the victim and processing the forensic evidence. You're probably not planning on allocating too many resources to this case, right?" Detective Superintendent Willumsen asked, shooting Suhr an inquisitive look.
The homicide chief seemed to deliberately pause before responding. Louise leaned her chair back against the wall. It had been a year since Suhr had appointed Willumsen lead detective for Louise's group. Willumsen was widely disliked for his arrogance and rudeness; he didn't give a damn about anything or anyone, and he made no distinction between superiors and colleagues. All the same, Louise was actually quite fond of him. Willumsen had taught her to just say "Yes," "No," or "Kiss my ass," to say things clearly without a lot of screwing around.
His other trademark line was "Is that understood, or not, or do you not give a shit about what I'm telling you?" He was also the one who had signed Louise up a few years back to train in hostage negotiations.
Suhr took a step back and propped his arm against the wall, as if gathering strength to reply.
"You have all the resources you need right now—all four of the detectives in your group: Rick and Jørgensen, Toft and Stig. Plus the assistance we're already getting from Mikkelsen and his folks at Halmtorvet precinct." Suhr let his arm drop again after firing off this remark.
Willumsen lowered his eyes to focus on his right thumbnail. He meticulously cleaned it with the tip of his pencil. Finally, he tossed the pencil aside and announced that he'd decided Toft and Stig would keep tabs on the forensic techs and keep everyone up-to-date on the latest evidence. They would also attend the victim's autopsy.
Then Willumsen's eyes shifted to Louise and her partner.
"I want the two of you to go down to see Mikkelsen and concentrate on the investigation in the neighborhood." With that, he wrapped up the meeting.
The alarm clock went off at six thirty. It had rained hard through the night and into the early morning hours, so Camilla Lind decided to skip her morning run, which was supposed to be the first stage of her new exercise regimen. Instead, she decided to walk over to the Frederiksberg public pool two blocks from her apartment. There, she would force herself to swim at least twenty laps and follow that up with some time in the sauna. Hopefully, that would work off the effects of her weekend with a few too many mojitos and far too little sleep. Her son had been at his father's from Thursday through Sunday, and from there he'd gone straight to the home of a classmate, where he was going to spend the night. On Monday morning, his class was taking a field trip to the Open Air Museum, and they were supposed to meet at Nørreport Station at ten. But his friend's father was a pastor and worked at home, and the man had assured Camilla that he'd be happy to see the boys off for the field trip. So at ten o'clock on this Monday morning she was going to attend the weekly editorial meeting for the Morgenavisen crime beat.
With great purpose, Camilla took out her swimsuit and a towel. She didn't go to the pool often, but she was determined to get some exercise today. It was pathetic how many times she had resolved to start exercising more, only to have her best intentions fizzle out, resulting in halfhearted attempts at best. She always felt extremely guilty when ultimately forced to admit to herself that she just really didn't want to do it.
* * *
The newspaper's crime desk was deserted when she unlocked the door to her office two hours later, her cheeks flushed, ready to tackle the new week. Thirty laps and a good sweat in the sauna had filled her with renewed energy. She had an hour before their meeting started with no leads on anything worth writing about. Out of the news loop, she hadn't read a newspaper or watched any TV because of her date Saturday with Kristian—who didn't mention until Sunday that he'd promised his girlfriend he'd pick her up at the airport when she got back from her girls-only trip to London.
Camilla had just happened to run into Kristian at Magasin, the department store. They had gone to elementary school together, but she didn't recognize him when he stopped her at the bottom of the escalator. It wasn't until he rattled off a bunch of names of other classmates that it dawned on her who he was, and it turned out he lived in Frederiksberg, too. So she had accepted when he asked her out to Belis Bar on Saturday night, and they ended up at her place after a couple of strong drinks. She had been fine with it the next morning when he said he had to take off.
Camilla booted up her computer and went out to put on some coffee. At the same time, she gathered up the pile of morning papers from the floor in front of the door to the crime division's modest conference room. She had time to leaf through them before the meeting started, and she also logged in to the website for the Ritzau news agency to see what sort of crime stories they were running from the weekend. A serious stabbing incident in Ålborg and a major car crash on the island of Fyn with three dead. She was jotting these down on her notepad when she heard the door open, and she nodded to the intern, who said hello.
She kept searching, quickly scanning the other papers' news services and checking Radio Denmark and TV2, but there wasn't much. The stories she did find weren't going to end up on the front page. Camilla reached for the phone as she glanced at the clock. It was already quarter past nine, and the editor in chief, Terkel Høyer, nodded to her as he walked by. Camilla closed the door to the conference room before placing a few calls to the major police departments to find out what they had in their blotters from the weekend.
* * *
"OK, what've we got?" Terkel began once Camilla and her colleague, Ole Kvist, were seated along with Jakob the intern. Jakob offered them the cinnamon rolls that he'd picked up. It was his last week on the job before he returned to the School of Media and Journalism to finish his degree.
Camilla looked down at the one story she hadn't crossed off her notepad yet; neither the stabbing nor the car crash had made the cut. Kvist leafed through the clippings in front of him. He made a habit of stopping by the news desk every Monday morning on his way up to their editorial offices on the second floor. Like most large news desks, they subscribed to all the smaller newspapers in Denmark, and Kvist quickly tossed any crime stories. He didn't actually evaluate which items were worth discussing until it was time for him to pitch his own stories. His stack of clippings always looked so impressive, even though only a couple of them would actually merit any follow-up; by the time they reached the crime pages of Morgenavisen, they were considered old news.
"There's a gang of art thieves at work in the Silkeborg area," Kvist said, reading the lede of the first clipping and glancing sideways at his boss, as if to make sure the man's interest was piqued, before continuing.
"Apparently, the thieves go straight for the expensive art on the wall, and this weekend they took a pricey Per Kirkeby painting and two other works by a Norwegian artist in the same price range from some mansion. The police estimate the mansion has several million kroners' worth of art in it. And they've had similar types of break-ins over the past couple of months."
The tone of his voice grew more eager as he worked up enthusiasm for the story. "I don't think that's really anything for us," Camilla ventured. "That story's already old news."
"It'd be worth doing if we could help them nail the gang by publicizing the case a lot more," Kvist pointed out, adding a pleading look to his face for their boss's benefit.
"Which newspaper did you get that from?" the editor in chief asked, reaching for the clipping.
"It's from central Jutland, so the story probably hasn't run in any of the bigger papers yet," Kvist replied, then proposed that he at least take time to make some calls about it.
Camilla broke off part of her cinnamon roll. There wouldn't be anything to that story until the police made some sort of breakthrough, but it wouldn't surprise her if Kvist got away with it anyway.
"It's right out where all those car dealers live, with a fabulous view over the Silkeborg lakes. They can all afford to have that kind of art on their walls," Kvist reminded them. "So it wouldn't be that hard for the thieves to figure out someone's home address, case the joint, and then make their move when the occupants go out for cocktails with their neighbors."
Camilla thought about the officers handling the case. Surely that scenario must have occurred to them, too.
"Well, look into it then," said Terkel, interrupting her thoughts. "Have you got anything else?"
Kvist shook his head, shoving the other clippings under the story that had been accepted. He glanced over at Camilla, who quickly wiped the crumbs from her mouth.
"Lind, what have you got?" Høyer asked.
"I've got a homicide. A young woman was found murdered in Vesterbro last night."
Høyer raised an eyebrow to show his interest.
"There's not much to tell you right now. An anonymous tip to the police. They found her down by Skelbækgade somewhere near the entrance to the Hotel and Restaurant Management School."
"So, it's a prostitute," Kvist said, leaning back.
Camilla ignored him. "The woman's throat was slit, and Suhr has a team on the case," she continued. "They haven't ID'd her yet. But they're willing to say, off the record, that they suspect she was from Eastern Europe."
"Yeah, well, plenty of them are these days," Kvist said. Then he cut her off, suggesting that he go to Silkeborg to talk to some of the victims who had had their expensive artwork stolen. "I'd really like to follow up on this story," he said.
Trying to hold her boss's attention, Camilla raised her voice. "She was no more than twenty."
The editor in chief sat in silence for a moment, nodding. "Go ahead and write it up, Camilla, but keep it to two columns."
"It sounds like a really brutal killing," Camilla went on, frustrated that Høyer didn't think the story deserved more space. "It could be a big story, especially if we haven't got anything else."
"But we do have something else," Kvist interrupted from his other side of the table, and it looked as if Høyer agreed with him.
"I'll call the forensic pathologist who examined the body last night. If it was a professional hit—"
Camilla was interrupted by her cell phone ringing. She was just about to switch it off to continue her argument when she saw it was Markus calling. She pushed her chair back from the table, quietly answered, and told her son to make it quick. At the same time, she kept her eyes on Høyer, who was asking Lind to present his suggestions for the paper.
"What do you mean 'a baby'?" Camilla asked, speaking into her cell and asking her son to speak up a bit. "In the church? When you were on your way to Nørreport Station?"
Camilla could hear the irritation in her own voice. As her son's words continued to spill out, she took a deep breath and calmly asked him to repeat everything he'd just said, but this time a little slower. Even though she could hear Kvist pushing his art heist some more, she turned to face the wall so she could concentrate on what her son was saying. Only now did she notice the quaver in his voice and how upset he seemed amid all his disjointed sentences. She let him go on until he'd gotten everything out that he needed to say.
"I'll be right there," she said, ending the call.
The others at the conference table could see the change in Camilla and looked at her with obvious curiosity as she returned her attention to their editorial meeting.
"I've got to go. My son and his friend found an abandoned baby on the floor of Stenhøj Church."
Down on Gothersgade, Camilla waved her hand for a taxi. The first three were occupied and drove right past, so she started jogging along Rosenborg Castle Gardens toward Copenhagen's Nørreport Station, keeping her eye out for a cab.
"Stenhøj Allé," she said after a minivan with its taxi light on veered over to the curb to pick her up. The morning traffic had subsided as they headed out toward Frederiksberg, the well-to-do suburb of Copenhagen where she lived, but she thought they were still moving too slowly. She knew she ought to be using this time to put in a call with the Institute of Forensic Medicine and locate the forensic pathologist who had been out to Skelbækgade last night, but she couldn't concentrate with all the adrenaline that Markus's distress had triggered coursing through her veins. She pictured his cheerful face, his short, spiky hair that he styled every morning with gel and hair spray. He was quite grown up for an eleven-year-old, but still enough of a child to call his mother when something upset him.
She had her wallet in her lap as they reached the white Lutheran church with the red-tile roof.
The cab driver flashed her a look of irritation in the rearview mirror as she passed him her card. "You should have told me that you were going to pay with a credit card before we started."
"Look, do you want to get paid or not?" she asked, gathering up her handbag from the floor.
A moment later, she was out of the cab, making her way down the side of the church.
A police car drove past and turned into the parking lot next to the cemetery. Camilla followed the path to the back of the church and the courtyard in front of the parsonage. The pastor, Henrik Holm, greeted her in the doorway, holding a little bundle in his arms. Markus ran over to Camilla from the kitchen chair where he had been sitting, with his friend Jonas close on his heels. Jonas greeted her with that slightly hoarse voice of his that Markus thought was so cool.
- "Crime-writer superstar Sara Blaedel's great skill is in weaving a heartbreaking social history into an edge-of-your-chair thriller while at the same time creating a detective who's as emotionally rich and real as a close friend."—Oprah.com
- "One of the best I've come across."—Michael Connelly
- "Sara Blaedel is a force to be reckoned with. She's a remarkable crime writer who time and again delivers a solid, engaging story that any reader in the world can enjoy."—Karin Slaughter
- "Another suspenseful, skillfully wrought entry."—Booklist on The Killing Forest
- "Engrossing...Blaedel nicely balances the twisted relationships of the cult members with the true friendships of Louise, Camilla, and their circle."—Publishers Weekly on The Killing Forest
- "Blaedel delivers another thrilling novel...Twists and turns will have readers on the edge of their seats waiting to see what happens next."—RT Book Reviews on The Killing Forest
- "For readers who gorge on captivating characters and chilling suspense, THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS is a tantalizing treat. Enjoy yourself, America."—Sandra Brown on The Forgotten Girls
- "Sara Blædel is at the top of her game. Louise Rick is a character who will have readers coming back for more."—Camilla Läckberg
- "Crackling with suspense, atmosphere, and drama, THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS is simply stellar crime fiction. I loved spending time with the tough, smart, and all-too-human heroine Louise Rick--and I can't wait to see her again."—Lisa Unger
- "Will push you to the edge of your seat [then] knock you right off....A smashing success."—BookReporter on The Killing Forest
- "This is a standout book that will only solidify the author's well-respected standing in crime fiction. Blaedel drops clues that will leave readers guessing right up to the reveal. Each new lead opens an array of possibilities, and putting the book down became a feat this reviewer was unable to achieve. Based on the history of treating the disabled, the story is both horrifying and all-to-real. Even the villains have nuanced and sympathetic motives."—RT Times on The Forgotten Girls - Top Pick **Nominated for a Reviewer's Choice Award**
- "Gripping."—Washington Post on The Forgotten Girls
- "Tautly suspenseful and sociologically fascinating."—BookPage on The Forgotten Girls
- "Tightly knit."—Kirkus Reviews on The Forgotten Girls
- "Chilling...[a] swiftly moving plot and engaging core characters."—Publishers Weekly on The Forgotten Girls
- "Sara Blaedel's THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS is an emotionally complex police-procedural thriller ...With a gripping premise, fast-paced narrative and well-developed characters, THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS is an incredible read."—FreshFiction.com
- On Sale
- Jan 2, 2018
- Page Count
- 432 pages
- Grand Central Publishing