Authors: Henning Mankell
Tags: #Henning Mankell
Table of Contents
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Epub ISBN 9781407053004
Published by Vintage 2009
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Copyright (c) Henning Mankell 1993
English translation (c) Laurie Thompson 1998
Henning Mankell has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on The subsequent purchaser
First published with the title
Ben vita lejoninnan
by Ordfronts Forlag, Stockholm 1993
First published in Great Britain by the Harvill Press 2003
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About the Author
Henning Mankell is the prize-winning and internationally acclaimed author of the Inspector Wallander Mysteries, now dominating bestseller lists throughout Europe. He devotes much of his time to working with Aids charities in Africa, where he is also director of the Teatro Avenida in Maputo.
Laurie Thompson was the editor of the influential
Swedish Book Review
from its founding in 1983 until 2002. He has translated many authors from Swedish, including three of the Wallander novels.
ALSO BY HENNING MANKELL
The Dogs of Riga
The Man Who Smiled
The Fifth Woman
One Step Behind
The Return of the Dancing Master
Before the Frost
Chronicler of the Winds
The Eye of the Leopard
I Die, But the Memory Lives On
Young Adult Fiction
Bridge to the Stars
Shadows in the Twilight
When the Snow Fell
As long as we assign value to the people of our country on the basis of their skin colour, we will force them to endure what Socrates termed the lie at the depths of our souls.
JAN HOFMEYR, 1946
Who dares to play while the lion roars?
The White Lioness
was first published in 1993, some towns and areas in South Africa have been renamed. The names in use then have been retained here.
In 1990 Nelson Mandela was released from Robben Island, where he had been a political prisoner for almost 30 years.
While the world rejoiced, many Afrikaners regarded the release of Nelson Mandela as an unspoken declaration of war. President de Klerk became a hated traitor.
At the time of Mandela's release, a group of men met in secret to take upon themselves responsibility for the future of the Afrikaners. They were ruthless men, and they would never submit.
They met in secret and reached a decision. They decided to create the conditions that would spark off a civil war which could end only one way: in a bloodbath.
The Woman from Ystad
Louise Akerblom, an estate agent, left the Savings Bank in Skurup shortly after 3.00 in the afternoon on Friday, April 24. She paused for a moment on the pavement and sucked the fresh air into her lungs, deciding what to do next. What she wanted to do most of all was to leave work straightaway and drive home to Ystad. She had promised a widow who had called her that morning to visit a house the woman wanted to sell.
She worked out how long it would take. An hour, maybe; hardly more. And she had to buy bread. Her husband Robert usually baked all the bread they needed, but that week he hadn't had time. She crossed the square and turned to the left where the bakery was. An old-fashioned bell tinkled as she opened the door. She was the only customer. Later, the lady behind the counter would remember that Louise Akerblom seemed to be in a cheerful mood, and remarked how good it was that spring had arrived at last.
She bought some rye bread, and decided to surprise the family with napoleons for dessert. Then she returned to the bank, where her car was parked at the back. On the way she met a young couple from Malmo to whom she had just sold a house. They had been at the bank tying up the loose ends, paying the seller his money, signing the contract and the loan agreement. She was delighted for them, for their joy at owning their own home. She felt, all the same, uneasy. Could they manage the mortgage and interest payments? Times were hard, and hardly anybody was able to feel secure in their work any more. What would happen if he lost his job? She had made a careful check on their finances. Unlike many other young people, they had not run up credit card debts, and the wife seemed to be the thrifty type. They would no doubt cope with buying their house. If not, she would see it advertised again soon enough. Maybe she or Robert would be the one to sell it. It wasn't unusual nowadays for her to sell the same house two or three times in the course of a few years.
She unlocked the car and called the Ystad office on the car phone. She heard Robert's voice on the answering machine informing callers that Akerblom's Estate Agency was closed for the weekend, but would reopen Monday morning at 8.00.
At first she was surprised to hear Robert had left so early. Then she remembered he was due to meet their accountant. She left a message: "Hi! I'm just going to take a look at a house at Krageholm. Then I'll be on my way home. It's 3.15. I'll be back by 5.00." Robert might go back to the office after his meeting with the accountant.
She pulled over a plastic folder lying on the seat, and took out the map she had drawn from the widow's description. The house was on a side road between Krageholm and Vollsjo. It would take a little over an hour to get there, look at the house and grounds, then drive back to Ystad.
Then she hesitated. It can wait, she thought. I'll take the coast road home and stop for a while and look at the sea instead. I've already sold one house today: that'll have to be enough.
She began humming a hymn, started the engine, and drove out of Skurup. But when she came to the Trelleborg turning she changed her mind once more. She wouldn't have time to look at the house on Monday or Tuesday. The lady might be disappointed and turn to some other agency. They couldn't afford to let that happen. Times were hard enough, and the competition was getting tougher. Nobody could afford to pass up anything that came their way, unless it was quite out of the question.
She sighed and turned off in the other direction. The coast road and the sea would have to wait. She kept glancing at the map. Next week she would buy a map holder so she wouldn't have to keep turning her head to check that she was on the right road. The widow's house shouldn't be all that hard to find even though she had never been on the road itself. She knew the district inside out. She and Robert would have been running the agency for ten years next year.
That thought surprised her. Ten years already. Time had passed so quickly, all too quickly. During those ten years she had given birth to two children and worked diligently with Robert to establish the firm. When they started up, times were good; she could see that. Now, they would never have managed to break into the market. She ought to feel pleased. God had been good to her and her family. She would talk to Robert again and suggest they could afford to increase their contributions to Save the Children. He would be hesitant, of course; he worried about money more than she did. No doubt she could talk him into it, though. She usually did.
Then she realised she was on the wrong road, and braked. Thinking about the family and the past ten years had made her miss the first exit. She laughed to herself, shook her head, and looked around carefully before making a three-point turn and retracing her route.
Skane is a lovely place, she thought to herself. Pretty and open. Yet secretive as well. What seemed at first sight to be so flat could unexpectedly change and reveal deep hollows like isolated islands with houses and farms. She never ceased to be amazed by the changing nature of the landscape when she drove around to look at houses or show them to prospective buyers.
She pulled onto the shoulder after Erikslund to check her directions. She was right. She turned left and could see the road to Krageholm ahead of her; it was beautiful. The countryside was hilly, and the road wriggled its way through the Krageholm forest where the lake lay glittering through the deciduous woods to the left. She had often driven along that road, and never tired of it.
After some seven kilometres she started looking for the final turn. The widow had described it as a dirt road, ungravelled but easily negotiable. She slowed down when she saw it and turned right; according to the map, the house would be on the left-hand side in about one kilometre.
After three kilometres the road petered out, and she knew she must be wrong after all.
For just a moment she was tempted to forget about the house altogether and drive straight home, but she resisted the thought and went back to the Krageholm road. About 500 metres further north she found another right turn. There were no houses answering to the description here either. She sighed, turned around, and decided to ask someone the way. She had just passed a house half hidden behind a clump of trees.
She stopped, switched off the engine and got out of the car. There was a fresh smell from the trees. She started walking towards the house, a white-painted, half-timbered, U-shaped building, the kind Skane is full of. Only one of the wings was still standing, however. In the middle of the front yard was a well with a black-painted pump.
She hesitated, and stopped. The house seemed deserted. Maybe it would be best to go home after all, and hope the widow wouldn't be upset.
I can always knock, she thought. That doesn't cost anything.
Before she came to the house, she passed a large, red-painted barn. She couldn't resist the temptation to peer in through the high, half-open doors.
She was surprised by what she saw. There were two cars. She was not knowledgeable about cars, but she couldn't help seeing that one was a top of the range Mercedes, and the other one a BMW.
There must be somebody in, then, she thought, and continued towards the whitewashed house. Somebody not short of cash.
She knocked at the door and waited. She knocked again, harder this time; still no answer. She tried to look in through a window next to the door, but the curtains were drawn. She knocked a third time, before walking round to see if there was a back door.
Behind the house was an overgrown orchard. The apple trees had certainly not been pruned for 20 or 30 years. Some rotting garden furniture was standing under a pear tree. A magpie flapped its wings loudly and flew away. She couldn't see a door, and returned to the front of the house.
I'll knock just one more time, she thought. If nobody answers, I'll go home. There'll be time to stop by the sea for a while before I need to start making dinner. She hammered on the door. Still no answer.
She felt rather than heard that someone had come up behind her from the courtyard. She turned abruptly. A man was about a metre away from her, looking straight at her. She saw he had a scar on his forehead. She was instantly uneasy.
Where had he come from? Why hadn't she heard him? The courtyard was gravelled. Had he crept up on her?
"I hope I'm not intruding," she said, trying to sound normal. "I'm an estate agent, and I'm lost. I just wanted to ask my way."
The man did not answer.
Maybe he's not Swedish, she thought. Maybe he couldn't understand what she was saying. There was something strange about his appearance that made her think he could be a foreigner.
She knew she had to get away. The man's cold eyes were frightening her.
"I won't disturb you any longer," she said. "Sorry to intrude."
She started to walk away but stopped in mid-stride. The man had come to life. He took something out of his jacket pocket. At first she didn't see what it was. Then she realised it was a pistol.
He raised the gun slowly and pointed it at her head.
Good God, she managed to think.
Good God, please help me. He's going to kill me.
Good God, help me.
It was 3.45 on the afternoon of April 24, 1992.