Jo Nesbo


Translated From The Norwegian By Don Bartlett


A COLLISION BETWEEN two vehicles is basic physics. It all comes down to chance, but chance phenomena can be explained by the equation Energy x Time = Mass x difference in Velocity. Add values to the chance variables and you have a story that is simple, true and remorseless. It tells you, for example, what happens when a fully loaded juggernaut weighing 25 tonnes and travelling at a speed of 80 kph hits a saloon car weighing 1,800 kilos and moving at the same speed. Based on chance with respect to point of impact, construction of bodywork and the angle of the two bodies relative to one another, a multitude of variants to this story are possible, but they share two common features: they are tragedies. And it is the saloon car which is in trouble.

It is strangely quiet; I can hear the wind rushing through the trees and the river shifting its water. My arm is numb and I am hanging upside down, trapped between flesh and steel. Above me, blood and petrol drip from the floor. Beneath me, on the chessboard ceiling, I can see a pair of nail scissors, a severed arm, two dead men and an open overnight bag. The white queen is broken, I am a killer and no one is breathing inside the car. Not even me. That is why I will die soon. Close my eyes and give up. Giving up is wonderful. I don’t want to wait any longer now. Hence the hurry to tell this story, this variant, this story about the angle of the bodies relative to one another.

PART ONE First Interview



He was kitted out in Gunnar Oye attire: grey Ermenegildo Zegna suit, hand-sewn Borelli shirt and burgundy tie with sperm-cell pattern, I guessed Cerrutti 1881. However, I was certain about the shoes: hand-sewn Ferragamo. I once had a pair myself.

The papers in front of me revealed that the candidate came armed with excellent credentials from NHH – the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration, in Bergen – a spell in Stortinget for the Conservative Party and a four-year success story as the MD of a medium-sized manufacturing company.

Nevertheless, Jeremias Lander was terrified. His upper lip glistened with sweat.

He raised the glass of water my secretary had placed on the low table between us.

‘I’d like…’ I said with a smile. Not the open, unconditional smile that invites a complete stranger to come in from the cold, not the frivolous one. But the courteous, semi-warm smile that, according to the literature, signals the interviewer’s professionalism, objectivity and analytical approach. Indeed, it is this lack of emotional commitment that causes the candidate to trust his interviewer’s integrity. And as a result the candidate will in turn – according to the aforementioned literature – provide more sober, objective information, as he has been made to feel that any pretence would be seen through, any exaggeration exposed and ploys punished. I don’t put on this smile because of the literature, though. I don’t give a damn about the literature; it is chock-a- block with various degrees of authoritative bullshit, and the only thing I need is Inbau, Reid and Buckley’s nine-step interrogation model. No, I put on this smile because I really am professional, objective and analytical. I am a headhunter. It is not that difficult, but I am king of the heap.

‘I’d like,’ I repeated, ‘I’d like you to tell me a little about your life, outside of work, that is.’

‘Is there any?’ His laughter was a tone and a half higher than it should have been. On top of that, when you deliver a so-called ‘dry’ joke at a job interview it is unwise both to laugh at it yourself and to watch your interlocutor to see whether it has hit home.

‘I would certainly hope so,’ I said, and his laughter morphed into a clearing of the throat. ‘I believe the management of this enterprise attaches great importance to their new chief executive leading a balanced life. They’re seeking someone who will stay with them for a number of years, a long-distance-runner type who knows how to pace himself. Not someone who is burnt out after four years.’

Jeremias Lander nodded while swallowing another mouthful of water.

He was approximately fourteen centimetres taller than me and three years older. Thirty-eight then. A bit young for the job. And he knew; that was why he had dyed the hair around his temples an almost imperceptible grey. I had seen this before. I had seen everything before. I had seen applicants afflicted with sweaty palms arrive with chalk in their right-hand jacket pocket so as to give me the driest and whitest handshake imaginable. Lander’s throat issued an involuntary clucking sound. I noted down on the interview feedback sheet: Motivated. Solution-orientated.

‘I see you live in Oslo,’ I said.

He nodded. ‘Skoyen.’

‘And married to…’ I flicked through his papers, assuming the irritated expression that makes candidates think I am expecting them to take the initiative.

‘Camilla. We’ve been married for ten years. Two children. School age.’

‘And how would you characterise your marriage?’ I asked without looking up. I gave him two drawn-out seconds and continued before he had collected himself enough to answer. ‘Do you think you will still be married in six years’ time after spending two-thirds of your waking life at work?’

I peered up. The confusion on his face was as expected. I had been inconsistent. Balanced life. Need for Commitment. That didn’t add up. Four seconds passed before he answered. Which is at least one too many. ‘I would certainly hope so,’ he said.

Secure, practised smile. But not practised enough. Not for me. He had used my own words against me, and I would have registered that as a plus if there had been some intentional irony. In this case, unfortunately, it had merely been the unconscious aping of words used by someone considered superior in status. Poor self- image, I jotted down. And he ‘hoped’, he didn’t know, didn’t give voice to anything visionary, was not a crystal-ball reader, didn’t show that he was up to speed with the minimum requirement of every manager: that they must appear to be clairvoyant. Not an improviser. Not a chaos-pilot.

‘Does she work?’

‘Yes. In a solicitor’s office in the city centre.’

‘Nine to four every day?’


‘And who stays at home if either of the children is ill?’

‘She does. But fortunately it’s very rare for Niclas and Anders to-’

‘So you don’t have a home help or anyone at home during the day?’

He hesitated in the way that candidates do when they are unsure which answer puts them in the best light. All the same, they lie disappointingly seldom. Jeremias Lander shook his head.

‘You look like you keep yourself fit, Lander.’

‘Yes, I train regularly.’

No hesitation this time. Everyone knows that businesses want top executives who won’t fall victim to a heart attack at the first hurdle.

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