Depths

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9780099542193: Depths

October 1914: the destroyer Svea emerged from the Stockholm archipelago bearing south-south-east. On board was Lars Tobiasson-Svartman, a naval engineer charged with making depth soundings for the Swedish navy. He is obsessed with measurement and precision, instincts reflected in his comfortable but cold relationship with his wife. Close to where soundings are taken, Lars rows out to a barren reef, presumed uninhabited, and discovers a young woman there. Despite her almost feral appearance, Sara stirs something in him. The mission is a success and the Svea returns to Gothenburg. Lars, however, remains haunted by this chance encounter, and feels compelled to return...

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About the Author:

Henning Mankell (1948-2015) became a worldwide phenomenon with his crime writing, gripping thrillers and atmospheric novels set in Africa. His prizewinning and critically acclaimed Inspector Wallander Mysteries continue to dominate bestseller lists all over the globe and his books have been translated into forty-five languages and made into numerous international film and television adaptations: most recently the BAFTA-award-winning BBC television series Wallander, starring Kenneth Branagh. Driven by a desire to change the world and to fight against racism and nationalism, Mankell devoted much of his time to working with charities in Africa, including SOS Children's Villages and PLAN International, where he was also director of the Teatro Avenida in Maputo. In 2008, the University of St Andrews conferred Henning Mankell with an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters in recognition of his major contribution to literature and to the practical exercise of conscience. www.henningmankell.com

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

part i
The Secret Affinity with Leads

Chapter 1


They used to say that when there was no wind the cries of the lunatics could be heard on the other side of the lake.

Especially in autumn. The cries belonged to autumn.

Autumn is when this story begins. In a damp fog, with the tempera­ture hovering just above freezing, and a woman who suddenly realises that freedom is at hand. She has found a hole in a fence.

It is the autumn of 1937. The woman is called Kristina Tacker and for many years she has been locked away in the big asylum near Säter. All thoughts of time have lost their meaning for her.

She stares at the hole for ages, as if she does not grasp its significance. The fence has always been a barrier she should not get too close to. It is a boundary with a quite specific significance.

But this sudden change? This gap that has appeared in the fence? A door has been opened by an unknown hand, leading to what was until now forbidden territory. It takes a long time for it to sink in.

Then, cautiously, she crawls through the hole and finds herself on the other side. She stands, motionless, listening, her head hunched down between her tense shoulders, waiting for somebody to come and take hold of her.

For all the twenty-two years she has been shut away in the asylum she has never felt surrounded by people, only by puffs of breath. Puffs of breath are her invisible warders.

The big, heavy buildings are behind her, like sleeping beasts, ready to pounce. She waits. Time has stood still. Nobody comes to take her back.

Only after prolonged hesitation does she take a first step, then another, until she disappears into the trees.

* * *

She is in a coniferous forest. There is an acrid smell, reminiscent of rutting horses. She thinks she can make out a path. She makes slow progress, and only when she notices that the heavy breathing which surrounded her in the asylum is no longer there can she bring herself to turn round.

Nothing but trees on every side. She does not worry about the path having been a figment of her imagination and no longer discernible, as she is not going anywhere in particular. She is like scaffolding surrounding an empty space. She does not exist. Within the scaffolding there has never been a building, or a person.

Now she is moving very quickly through the forest, as if she did have an objective beyond the pine trees after all. From time to time she stands, stock-still, as if by degrees turning into a tree herself.

Time does not exist in the forest. Only trunks of trees, mostly pine, the occasional spruce, and sunbeams tumbling noiselessly to the damp earth.

She starts trembling. A pain comes creeping under her skin. At first she thinks it is that awful itchy feeling that affects her sometimes and forces the warders to strap her down to prevent her from scratching herself raw. Then it comes to her that there is another reason for her trembling.

She remembers that, once upon a time, she had a husband.

She has no idea what has prompted that memory. But she recalls very clearly having been married. His name was Lars, she remembers that. He had a scar over his left eye and was twenty-three centi-
metres taller than she was. That is all she can remember for the moment. Everything else has been repressed and banished into the darkness that fills her being.

But her memory is reviving. She stares round at the tree trunks in confusion. Why should she start thinking about her husband just here? A man who hated forests and was always drawn to the sea? A midshipman, and eventually a hydrographic survey engineer with the rank of Commander, employed on secret military missions?

The fog starts to disperse, melting away.

* * *

She stands rooted to the spot. A bird takes off, clattering somewhere out of sight. Then all is silent again.

My husband, Kristina Tacker thinks. I once had a husband, our lives were intertwined. Why do I remember him now, when I have found a hole in the fence and left all those watchful predators behind?

She searches her mind and among the trees for an answer.

There is none. There is nothing.
Chapter 2

Late in the night the warders find Kristina Tacker.

It is frosty, the ground creaks under their feet. She is standing in the darkness, not moving, staring at a tree trunk. What she sees is not a pine tree but a remote lighthouse in a barren and deserted archipelago at the edge of the open sea. She scarcely notices that she is no longer alone with the silent tree trunks.

That day in the autumn of 1937 Kristina Tacker is fifty-seven years old. There is a trace of her former beauty lingering in her face. It is twelve years since she last uttered a word. Her hospital records repeat the phrase, day after day, year after year:

The patient is still beyond reach.

That same night: it is dark in her room in the rambling mental hospital. She is awake. A lighthouse beam sweeps past, time after time, like a silent tolling of light inside her head.
Chapter 3

Twenty-three years earlier, also on an autumn day, her husband was contemplating the destroyer Svea, moored at the Galärvarv Quay in Stockholm. Lars Tobiasson-Svartman was a naval officer and cast a critical eye over the vessel. Beyond her soot-stained funnels he could make out Kastellet and Skeppsholm Church. The light was grey, forcing him to screw up his eyes.
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