The Fire Witness  - Lars Kepler, Laura A. Wideburg

It's your turn to close your eyes

Joona Linna is a Swedish detective currently under suspension and relieved from active duty, while under investigation by The National Police's Internal Review Board.
He is called in as an 'observer' in the investigation of violent murders at Birgittagården, a halfway home for troubled girls.

Many are drug addicts...some can be violent. For these girls, there is no alternative to Birgittagården, with its alarms and double- locked doors. The next step would be prison or forced confinement in a psychiatric unit.

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Photo of Birgittagården- a real facility in Hosjö, Sweden run by the Birgitta nuns as a hotel/retreat/ vacation spot. I guess it can be a halfway house, too.


Miranda, one of the teenage residents, is found bludgeoned to death in a locked isolated room, her body posed with her hands covering her face and her legs crossed.
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Close by, in an old abandoned brewery, Elisabet, a nurse from Birgittagården, is also found brutally murdered, her keys to the isolation room are missing.
Vicky, another disturbed teenaged resident is nowhere to be found; her mysterious disappearance and a bloodied hammer found under her pillow point to her as the major suspect.

The introduction of a medium might make even the amateur crime reader(moi) feel patronized. Flora Hansen tries to make ends meet by claiming she can communicate with the dead. It's easy to dismiss her as a fraud and a liar when she says that information of the killings came to her by a ghost, and offers tips to the police at a price.

All liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone …

Yet through all the skepticism, Linna has a needling feeling that she is a part of the puzzle. It makes one eager to find out how.
Joona Linna's character is not that of a dark and brooding hero, but he has other challenging qualities. He seldom does things by the rules; he's "so stubborn he'll stare at a crime scene until it opens before him like a book"; a 'lone wolf' who would rely on gut instincts and keen observational skills. It's that gut instinct that urges him to set out on his own to find Vicky before the police.
I haven't completely read the earlier 'Joona Linna' novels ( DNF The Hypnotist), but there is a suggestion of a past submerged in deep, painful and unhealed wounds.

The story unfolds with strongly laid out plot twists that lead to a web of child trafficking, the questionable use of psychotropic medication in state institutions, and a neglected, abused foster system. The chapters are very short( two to three pages at most), each ending enticingly in a cliffhanger.
There are some gory, violent scenes which may be off-putting for the squeamish( not me, after-all, that's what I expected).

This turned out to be an intense, fast-paced thriller with a solid storyline. As for Joona Linna, his past serves as an intriguing segue into the next novel. I think I'll give that a try, too.

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Lars Kepler is a pseudonym for the Swedish couple Alexander Ahndoril and his wife Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril who authored previous novels The Hyponotist (which I DNF) and The Nightmare (which I DNR).