All Things Mysterious Volume Twenty-Five
Bone-cracking cold. Icy winds, blowing snow. Slate-grey skies. Ten months out of the year! How do people stand it? Brand stood, tilted against the wind, and wished he had dressed in a few more layers. Or had some brandy. Where was a keg-bearing St. Bernard when you needed one?
Why, oh, why, had he agreed to come on a mountain climbing expedition? Possible answers: 1) because it was there. Mount Kebnekaise in Sweden was a beautiful spot, but it was numbingly frigid! Or 2) because someone else had paid his way. Or 3) to prove to himself that he had some get-up-and-go and wasn’t just a bump on a log.
Whatever the reason he was here, it stood to reason that Brand would be less cold if he moved around some, so he did a few feeble jumping jacks and started walking in circles. He heard a noise behind him, turned, and beheld Saskia, the young woman in the group upon whom he’d been crushing since about the first minute he saw her. She was doing the same thing, calisthenics to try and stay warm before the group carried on climbing. She seemed a good-natured sort, and this hope was reinforced when she noticed him looking, smiled and said, ‘I don’t think I’ll ever be warm again!’ which is pretty much what Brand had been thinking to himself. This pleasant reverie was rudely interrupted when the group leader, a sadistic fellow who would have made a perfect high school gym teacher, started shouting, ‘Listen up! Rest’s over, you bums! Get up and get going!’
Saskia said, ‘I’m tired of being yelled at by that jerk! And I’m not a bum!’ Eyeing an opportunity, Brand quickly chimed in. ‘I’m with you. Hey, let’s go up the bunny trail, see the one marked in yellow? That way we can take it a little easy and not get yelled at every two seconds.’ To his delight, the lady enthusiastically agreed, and they set off, apart from the group, climbing onwards and upwards on the beginner’s trail which ended up at the same place anyway, so hopefully they weren’t breaking the rules too much. Some decent conversation ensued, if a bit breathlessly, and Brand was liking his chances more and more until his daydreams were rudely swept away in the space of an instant. As they turned a corner on the path, they were shocked by the sight of a frozen hand that was sticking out of the snow, obliviously beckoning to them from the hereafter and clearly attached to an equally frozen corpse. Brand, stunned, simply stood frozen to his spot in more ways than one while Saskia screamed, and then, pulling herself together, started to dig in the snow around the hand to uncover whatever may be attached to it, which proved to be an equally frozen torso...complete in a Statue of Liberty costume.
‘I will investigate now, yes?’ Hjaldmir Johannssonsonn was on the case, in a manner of speaking. He glanced at the frozen person, which Saskia had now completely uncovered. ‘What do you think happened, Inspector?’ she asked. ‘Why is this person dressed up like the Statue of Liberty?’ ‘Hmmmm,’ mused Johannssonsonn. ‘A most unusual case. But you see, this person could have been here for months, even years. There’s no telling with frozen bodies, you see.’
‘But look, sir,’ Saskia put in. ‘Surely she couldn’t have been here for very long--someone would have noticed pretty quick, with all the skiing and hiking around here, don’t you think?
‘Hmmmm,’ mused Johannssonsonn. ‘A very interesting development. I must go off and ponder this new twist to the case. I may be some days in returning, as my wife has left me, my house burned down, my dog ran away, and I am an alcoholic.’
No one quite knew what to say to that, so no one said anything. At length Saskia said, ‘That’s some tough luck.’ Johannssonsonn cheerily replied, ‘That’s Sweden!’
‘But how do you deal with all this stuff?’
‘Ah, well, when the sun never rises in the winter, one does get a bit down in the mouth!’ And with that he was off.
‘“A bit down in the mouth?” Good gravy, how depressing!’ cried Brand.
‘They’re all like that, haven’t you noticed? They seem to wallow in their misery and I can’t stand that!’ The would-be gym teacher instructor had followed them to see what the fuss was about and saw a valuable opportunity to spew stereotypes. ‘Haven’t they ever heard of positive thinking?’
Brand replied, ‘It’s pretty hard to be positive if your house burns down!’
The instructor, whose name was Schultz, eyed the other man suspiciously. ‘I haven’t seen you around for a while--were you trying to sneak off?’
Laughing nervously, Brand said, ‘Sneak off? Me? No way!’
‘Well, get back in line!’ barked Schultz. ‘No shirkers here--we’ll make men out of you yet!’
‘Even me?’ asked Saskia.
‘Especially you! Now fall in!’
They’d been hiking for hours, it seemed. Once, Brand had whispered, ‘I wonder if this is what the army’s like?’ to Saskia, only to earn another tongue-lashing from Schultz. Brand decided to keep quiet, as difficult as that was, and just hike along, for the quicker they walked, the sooner they would get to the summit, a vague goal they had all enthusiastically endorsed that morning but that was looking more and more forlorn as the afternoon wore on. Concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, Brand did not notice Saskia suddenly stop right in front of him, so that he plowed into her, causing those behind him to plow into him, just like a multi-car pileup on the freeway. As he was peeling his face off of her down parka, he reflected that it wasn’t a bad place to be, stuck to Saskia! But he stopped mid-reflection and for the second time that day, gaped in shock. Another frozen person beckoned to them, and not only was this one not buried but wholly aboveground, this was a man who was dressed up like Abraham Lincoln!
What was going on here?
Tune in next time for Part Two of ‘Brand and the Costumed Corpses!’
Scandinavia is a hotbed of mystery fiction, and is in the forefront of a renaissance of police procedurals. Try these:
The late Steig Larsson started it all, right? Well, now, wait a minute!
In 1965, Swedish co-authors Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall published Roseanna, the first in a series, eventually numbering ten, featuring detective Martin Beck. First published in English in 1967, the series is still in print, so come on by or order online and enjoy the actual beginning of Scandinavian crime fiction!
Mons Kallentoft is another Swedish author who has a very popular series, so far involving all four seasons--see, it’s not always winter up north!
The latest Swedish sensation is Sofie Sarenbrant, with Killer Deal. If there’s a bad real estate mystery, I’ve never seen it!
Lest you think that Sweden has a monopoly on crime authors, here is Iceland’s pride:
And Denmark weighs in with the first in the amazing body of work by Jussi Adler-Olsen:
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