By Sara Blaedel
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The Stolen Angel
When the granddaughter of the wealthy Sachs-Smith family is kidnapped, Louise’s skills as a trained negotiator are put to work. She is tasked with helping the desperate mother negotiate what soon turns into a life-or-death situation. The kidnappers will only exchange the deathly ill little girl for an infamous stained glass panel–known as the Angel of Death–that has been in the family for generations. But there’s a problem… the Angel, worth millions, was recently stolen from the family home.
Racing against the clock as she matches wits with a criminal mastermind, Louise will be taken to the depths of human depravity. She’s about to learn the hard way that money can buy absolutely anything. But will she be able to find the little girl before her time runs out?
Sara Blaedel’s latest suspenseful and emotionally powerful thriller will keep you breathless until the final shocking twist.
The smell of acetone was so pungent it tore at his nostrils, seeping out through the cracks of the door and bleeding into the dark cellar.
The space was lit only by the ceiling lamps. He had bricked up the windows so their empty frames were flush with the wall.
He stood there for a moment in the passageway, then put the mask in place over his mouth and nose before carefully wriggling his long, slender fingers into a pair of tight latex gloves.
As meticulous as ever.
Listening to the sound of his own breathing, he sensed the dampness that clung to the cellar walls. He found it odd that the ventilation system with its charcoal filters wasn’t more efficient, but dismissed the thought from his mind as quickly as it had arisen. The system had been running twenty-four seven, but the muggy smell of the cellar lingered still. He was getting used to it by now. He pulled the three keys from the pocket of his lab coat.
He was pleased that there was no direct access from the ground floor. A person had to go outside into the garden in order to find the steps leading down. One of the first things he’d done after moving in was to have separate keys made for the cellar.
The yellow key opened the cold store where the freezer was; the blue one was for the room containing the two-meter-long shallow bath with the vacuum suction unit. The last key was red and gave access to the back room. The exhibition, as he called it, with its three rectangular glass display cases lined up in a row.
He had taken particular delight in arranging the lighting that illuminated the three women in their transparent open caskets. The lamps were positioned with all the fastidiousness of a portrait photographer, their light falling so softly that no shadow was too dark and no detail remained anything but crystal clear to the viewer. He had already begun to prepare the lighting for the next display case, which would soon be ready for the new woman, and had rearranged the space to make room.
Standing there now, he beheld the three naked women.
How beautiful they were, with their different shapes. It was all exactly as he had planned.
The first was thin. He considered the next one to be of normal build. And then came the pride of the collection, the one with the perfect womanly curves, the heavy, pendulous breasts and chunky thighs. Smoothing his hand over her hip, he felt the tingling rush of blood through his body as his erection swelled.
He always took such care to restore the original shapes. Before commencing work on a corpse, he’d photograph it in detail. From the front, back, and sides, noting the rise of the chest, the line of the waist.
His inspiration had been Gunther von Hagens’s exhibition Körperwelten and the worldwide touring exhibition Body Worlds. He had become fascinated with the thought of being able to preserve the beauty of a woman for all time.
The blond girl was hardly a feast for the eyes. She lay there in the empty steel bath under the glare of the neon lighting, her naked body fallen in on itself. Over the last few months, the acetone had done its job, expelling all water from her body to the very last drop.
And yet a shiver ran down his spine. This was the final phase. The room was cold and sterile, the walls clad with white tiling, a stainless steel table installed at the rear for the chemicals and silicone. Next to the plastic tubs were the tubes and the wooden box.
He stepped closer but could not stop himself from glancing away. This was the least flattering stage of the process. The eye sockets were empty, the face collapsed. Muscle and bone were the only things left inside the sheath of skin. But although the outer covering lay loose around the skull, he thought he perceived the beauty he would now set about restoring. Her long hair was protected from the liquid by a tight-fitting cap. She would be so beautiful with her hair tresses about her perfect shoulders, he thought. Like an artist, he felt the love for his work well inside him with every step he took toward completion.
It had been most surprising to him the first time. He simply hadn’t prepared himself mentally for the transformation into such a magnificent and wondrous specimen. He knew, of course, that the body consists of 70 percent water, and that the same amount plus an additional 10 to 15 percent would vanish in the acetone bath. Nevertheless, he had been astounded, and it had been some days before he again felt ready to return to the cellar and complete the work.
On the other hand, he could never in his wildest dreams have imagined the euphoria he’d feel when at last the silicone had hardened and he had finally returned her comely curves to her, perhaps even having exaggerated them slightly to accord with his taste.
Stunned, he had stood there feeling like the creator of the universe.
* * *
He stepped up to the stainless steel table and picked up the tubes. Lifting the heavy tubs of silicone onto the cart, he pushed it over to the shallow bath. Two tubes ran from each tub. He glanced up at the clock. It would take less than half an hour to fill the bath. When it was done, he would put the lid in place and switch on the suction unit. Then all that was required was for her to simply lie there as the silicone gradually seeped into her cells and filled her body.
With a small knife, he sliced away the protective caps and broke the seal, allowing the silicone to flow. Slowly and reluctantly to begin with, though he had made sure to warm the substance so as to quicken the process, but then it began to run, a fluid thicker than water gradually pouring into the bath, spreading itself to the four corners.
The whole operation required patience and the greatest of accuracy.
His women were small masterpieces. Perhaps even grand masterpieces. He closed the door now, ready to devote himself entirely to the blonde. He owed it to her.
No, I’m afraid not, Fru Milling. As far as I’m aware, there’s still no news about your daughter,” Louise Rick said into the phone, with regret. She was sweating in her training gear and had just gotten back to Police HQ after six hours with the rest of the negotiation unit.
The exercise had been planned for some time; the theme was suicide. At seven in the morning, Louise had met the others out at the city’s Zealand bridge, and although by now she was reasonably experienced, she was never exactly going to enjoy dangling from a bridge trying to talk a fictional suicide candidate into giving up their bid to depart the world. It had been a good day, nonetheless, and Thiesen, who was in charge of the unit, had heaped praise on her, telling her she was getting better all the time. Next up was the Storebæltsbroen, the monumental suspension bridge that spanned the Great Belt between the islands of Zealand and Fyn.
“I certainly do understand your concern. You haven’t heard from her in months.”
Louise sank back in her chair and unzipped her jacket. The office was boiling hot, the air stale and clammy. The radiator was on full blast to banish the winter’s cold, and the grimy floor was streaked with slush from outside. She had only just walked through the door and was already on her way out again when fru Milling had called.
Hardly a week, certainly never two, passed without a phone call from Grete Milling. The retired woman’s daughter had disappeared more than six months earlier while on a package vacation to the Costa del Sol, and since then there had been no trace of Jeanette Milling anywhere. Spanish police were dealing with the case on the ground, while the Search Department of the Danish National Police was handling the investigation. Nevertheless, the old lady continued to phone Police HQ to ask if there was any breakthrough.
Louise looked up at the clock. She had to pick up Jonas from school today for a dentist appointment.
“I’m sure the police in Spain are still out looking for Jeanette,” she comforted the anxious mother, but of course she wasn’t sure at all. The Spanish authorities were all too familiar with amorous women getting carried away with their vacation flings, so it was no wonder they didn’t take such cases seriously—especially when the woman in question was over thirty, childless, and still single.
The only thing that could possibly point toward a crime in Jeanette Milling’s case was the fact that her bank account hadn’t been touched since the day she went missing.
As if Grete Milling somehow could sense through the phone that Louise wasn’t paying full attention, she cleared her throat and repeated what she had just said:
“I tried to get in touch with that journalist again, the one who wrote about Jeanette at the time she disappeared.”
She explained that it was to satisfy herself he hadn’t dug anything up the police might have missed.
“But he wasn’t employed there anymore, and the man I spoke to had never heard of Jeanette. It’s as if everyone’s forgotten about her.”
* * *
Jeanette Milling had flown with Spies Travel from Billund to Málaga, where a guide had been waiting to receive the group of vacationers at the airport. The guide remembered the tall woman with the long, blond hair, but his only contact with her had been in pointing her to the bus that would drive the package guests to Fuengirola, where Jeanette was staying. He never saw her again.
The Morgenavisen newspaper had described how Jeanette had arrived at the hotel and been given a room with a partial sea view. It had been established beyond doubt that she had stayed at the hotel for four days, her name being crossed off the list each morning when she appeared for breakfast. But after the first four days she had not visited the restaurant at all.
She had bought provisions at a small supermarket adjoining the hotel. Police had ascertained as much by going through her bank statement. Several guests had seen her, at the pool and in the hotel restaurant. They described her as smiling and outgoing and remembered her having been chatty with almost everyone.
But then all of a sudden she was gone. From that moment on, there was no trace. The Jeanette Milling case had received massive media coverage in the days after her disappearance became known. After she was reported missing, Morgenavisen had dispatched a reporter and photographer team to the Costa del Sol to see if they could retrace the young woman’s footsteps leading up to the time she had seemingly vanished off the face of the earth.
Interest in the story had long since gone the same way. No one cared anymore about Grete Milling’s disappeared daughter.
* * *
“We should also at least entertain the possibility that your daughter might not want to be found at all,” Louise ventured cautiously.
There was a silence at the other end, and Louise lowered her gaze to the floor.
“No,” came the reply after a moment, softly and yet with conviction. “She would never leave me on my own with that uncertainty.”
Jeanette Milling had been living just outside Esbjerg, and after her disappearance her mother had kept up her rent so her daughter might still have her flat to come home to. For the six years prior to her disappearance she had been working as a secretary and receptionist for two physiotherapists, but apart from that Louise knew very little about the woman who had booked and gone on a package tour for a two-week vacation in the sun.
Nor was it a high-priority case, not anymore. Certainly not today, she thought with another glance at the clock above the door.
And yet she could hardly bring herself to ignore fru Milling’s phone calls, since the woman invested so much hope in them.
“You’re welcome to call again, of course,” said Louise before saying good-bye and ending the call.
She sat for a second, struck abruptly by a sense of the woman’s desolation at her daughter’s disappearance. It was touching indeed, the way Grete Milling steadfastly held on to the belief that Jeanette would be found despite the months that had already passed. At the same time she could hardly bear to think of the day someone would have to extinguish that hope and tell her that the lease on her daughter’s flat could now be terminated.
“Want a coffee?” Lars Jørgensen asked. Her work partner had gotten to his feet and was already on his way out the door.
Louise shook her head. “I’ve got to get Jonas to the dentist, so I’d better be off,” she said, checking the text message that popped up with a ping as she spoke.
Got off early, her son wrote. Pick me up at home.
“See you in the morning,” Louise said, smiling as Lars Jørgensen tunelessly mumbled the lyrics of some vaguely memorable song about a woman’s work never being done.
It wasn’t there!” Carl Emil Sachs-Smith almost screeched as he marched right past the receptionist. He barged into attorney Miklos Wedersøe’s office in Roskilde on Thursday morning, with no regard for whatever he might be interrupting. “There was just an empty space on the wall!”
Carl Emil could feel the perspiration trickle down his back underneath his high-necked sweater as he tossed his coat on the floor and dumped himself heavily in the chair in front of the attorney. The celebrated glass icon had hung there as long as he could remember. He sat for a moment with his eyes closed and felt that his blood seemed to have difficulty reaching his head despite pumping through the rest of his body so fast, it made him dizzy.
“I can’t understand it,” he added in a whisper, as if the notion were incapable of sinking in. “It’s always been there, above my father’s desk.”
It had been six months since he had confided the family secret about the Angel of Death, as they called it, to his attorney. One evening in late summer following a meeting of the Termo-Lux board of directors, he and Miklos Wedersøe had dined together at Roskilde’s Prindsen restaurant. His sister had gone home early to be with her daughter, and as the two men sat enjoying a cognac after their meal, Carl Emil told him about how the fabled icon had fallen into the hands of their paternal grandfather.
As a young glazier in Roskilde, the grandfather had been commissioned to do some restoration work in the cathedral. The job had required some consignments of old church glass from Poland and there, among the great iron frames with their centuries-old stained glass covered in dust, he had found the Angel of Death.
At first his grandfather had been unaware that what he had discovered was a thousand-year-old treasure, but he had sensed right away that it was a very special piece of glass. Having pored his way through various religious history books he realized the icon had been part of the decoration in the Hagia Sophia, the principal basilica of the Byzantine Empire until Constantinople fell to Ottoman forces in 1453 and the sultan turned the Orthodox church into a mosque.
Carl Emil told him, too, that the myth of the unique icon made it a highly coveted piece for collectors all over the world. During the time it hung in the Hagia Sophia—whose name apparently translated from the Greek as “Holy Wisdom”—the Angel of Death had been part of a stained-glass window in the side aisle, above the poems carved into the curvatures of the half domes that to this day rose over the marble peacock tails. The clear blue colors of the icon were said to cast a ring of light down onto the church floor between two thick pillars inlaid with glass that stood flanking the window.
According to legend, a poor peasant went to the church one day to pray for forgiveness after accidentally having taken the life of a common thief. Under cover of night the thief had attempted to make off with the peasant’s two cows. The peasant had caught him red-handed, and when the thief took to his heels the peasant had picked up a rock from the field and hurled it after him. To his misfortune, the rock struck the thief in the head and killed him on the spot.
And so it was that the peasant had stood in the church, in the ring of light, his eyes directed upward at the icon as he prayed for forgiveness. Afterward he told of how the light had grown brighter and still clearer, and the Angel of Death had spoken to him.
“Your sins shall be forgiven.”
Relieved and more than a little shaken by the experience, the peasant journeyed home. The legend said he would never be prosecuted for the death he had caused.
The tale of the poor peasant and the thief spread quickly, prompting pilgrims in the thousands to flock to the Hagia Sophia in order to receive forgiveness for their sins.
* * *
The attorney gathered together the documents that lay spread out over the desk in front of him. He put them away in a folder, then pushed it to one side before giving Carl Emil his full attention.
“Who else knew of its existence?” he asked gravely, wiping his shiny bald head with a handkerchief.
“No one, besides the family,” Carl Emil replied, distraught. “There’s been no shortage of art historians and antiques dealers trying to track it down over the years. My father was contacted on a number of occasions by a German art historian who believed he was on the scent. He claimed he’d been able to map the Angel’s journey from Constantinople after 1453, up through Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia, then on into Poland. He even had the particulars of where and when. But on each occasion my father managed to convince him he had reached a dead end. Various scholars and other experts have written articles and presented papers airing their theories about what might have become of the icon since it disappeared from the Hagia Sophia. As yet, however, none has succeeded in locating it. But maybe now someone has. We’ve given them the perfect opportunity, leaving the house empty for so long.”
He ran his hands despairingly through his fair hair then buried his face in his palms, silently shaking his head.
After their dinner at the Prindsen restaurant, Wedersøe had offered to investigate how much the treasured Angel might be worth on today’s market. They agreed that he would at first put out some feelers, to get an idea of what kind of sum they might be talking about if the right buyer came along.
Wedersøe’s contact in New York had acted in the strictest confidence, inquiring within a few highly exclusive circles of fabulously wealthy, and in some cases rather eccentric collectors. These were the individuals who would have enough cash on hand to easily permit the illegal purchase of vanished artifacts and treasures categorized by the auction houses as priceless. Eventually, shortly after three o’clock the night before Carl Emil’s sudden entrance into his attorney’s office, Miklos Wedersøe had received a phone call from his American contact informing him that he now had a serious bid for the Angel of Death. A dizzying $175 million US, amounting to more than a billion Danish kroner.
This information had prompted Carl Emil to leap into his black Range Rover, with the astronomical figure still buzzing in his ears, and drive out to his parents’ large and magnificent property, a manor farm outside Roskilde, to fetch the icon.
The house had stood unoccupied for almost half a year since their father had vanished in the days following their mother’s suicide. Most people guessed that after a lifelong marriage Walther Sachs-Smith had elected to follow his wife into death, but his body had yet to be found, so the manor by the fjord felt almost like an unvisited museum.
“What do we do?” Carl Emil burst out, immediately falling silent and staring feebly at his attorney, the man’s bald pate, the expensive suit, the lip salve on the desk in front of him.
That evening at Prindsen, Miklos Wedersøe had responded to Carl Emil’s confidence by telling him about his own upbringing as an only child. His mother was Russian, his father a Dane passing through the country when Communism was at its height. Miklos retained no recollection of his father at all, the man having abandoned his mother even before Miklos was two years old, leaving nothing behind but a photograph and his surname, which always sounded so out of place during roll call at school. His mother died when he was only fourteen, and after her death he decided to continue his education at a boarding school in Denmark.
Miklos’s decision had very much been prompted by the thought of his father; Carl Emil understood that. But at the same time it was a decision made not with the purpose of finding him; more to demonstrate that he was able to look after himself and get by without his father’s help. Carl Emil admired him for that. And he felt compelled to say that Miklos Wedersøe had turned out rather well, with his own established law firm and seats on the boards of a number of very good companies.
Right now, however, Carl Emil had difficulty comprehending how the attorney could remain so calm. In lieu of a fee, they had agreed that Miklos Wedersøe would receive a commission of 20 percent of the sale, since it was he who had incurred the rather considerable risk involved in alerting his American contact.
Wedersøe produced a plastic folder and nudged it across the desk for Carl Emil’s perusal. On top was an illustration of the Angel of Death.
Carl Emil recognized it immediately, the angel with the lily in her hand, her great wings behind her. And though it was little more than a sketch, the colors were nevertheless bright and clear: silver, pale blue, and a deeper, darker navy. It was an exquisite representation of the icon his father had kept on display on the wall of his office.
“It says here that the archangel Gabriel is considered to be the Angel of Death. He is linked with magic and works by way of the human subconscious,” Wedersøe explained. “This is from that German art historian who’s been trying to track the icon down for quite some time.”
He placed his hand on the folder and explained how the documents had turned up while he had been going through some older files in Carl Emil’s father’s archive.
“It was filed together with the correspondence they seem to have kept over the years.”
He opened the file and removed the documents.
“Take a look at the dimensions noted here in the margin,” Wedersøe instructed.
Carl Emil stared but failed to fathom what the attorney was getting at.
“How big was the icon your father kept on the wall?” Wedersøe asked.
“Certainly not sixty by eighty centimeters,” said Carl Emil. “It was smaller, quite a bit smaller.”
Miklos Wedersøe nodded. “But those are the dimensions of the real icon. Which makes more sense given the size of the basilica, if, as we believe, it took pride of place in the side aisle.”
Carl Emil slumped back in the chair and folded his hands behind his neck, ruffling his hair at the nape. For a moment he closed his eyes and tried to fight the desperation that had engulfed him.
“You mean that what my grandfather found back then was a smaller copy?”
Miklos Wedersøe shook his head. “I think your father had a copy made of the real icon.”
Carl Emil’s eyes snapped open. He leaned forward attentively.
“This was attached to a receipt from an acknowledged glass artist. Unfortunately he’s no longer alive, but the receipt is from 1986 and I’m convinced that was when your father had his copy produced.”
Carl Emil straightened up. “So what you’re saying is that what’s missing from my father’s office is just a reproduction?”
“Indeed,” Wedersøe confirmed. “That would be my assessment. However, since the copy is gone it would appear that someone is trying to track down the real one. The question, of course, is who will find the original first.”
All of a sudden Carl Emil could no longer think straight. The fact that they had no idea who was behind the theft made him feel extremely vulnerable.
“Who has had access to your parents’ home?” Wedersøe asked.
Carl Emil shook his head. As far as he knew, no one.
“The alarm’s switched on and only my sister and I can get in. We’ve changed the code, not knowing who my parents might have shared the old one with. They had a housekeeper and a cleaner who came in several times a week.”
“Does that mean your father wouldn’t be able to get into his own house if he happened to turn up again?” Wedersøe went on.
Carl Emil sighed and sank back again.
- "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
- 368 pages
- Grand Central Publishing