A shocking murder in an affluent Helsinki suburb has ties to witchcraft and the occult in this thrilling U.S. debut from Finnish author Max Seeck.
A bestselling author’s wife has been found dead in a gorgeous black evening gown, sitting at the head of an empty dining table. Her most chilling feature—her face is frozen in a ghastly smile.
At first it seems as though a deranged psychopath is reenacting the gruesome murders from the Witch Hunt trilogy, bestsellers written by the victim’s husband. But investigator Jessica Niemi soon realizes she’s not looking for a single killer but rather for dozens of believers in a sinister form of witchcraft who know her every move and are always one step ahead.
As the bodies start piling up, Jessica knows they won’t stop until they get what they want. And when her dark past comes to light, Jessica finds herself battling her own demons while desperately trying to catch a coven of killers before they claim their next victim.
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About the Book
The Witch Hunter
by Max Seeck
Jessica Niemi Series
Mystery, Thriller, & Suspense
October 27, 2020
A Jessica Niemi Novel
© 2020 Max Seeck
THE WIND HAS picked up, and the corners of the massive glass-and-skimmed-concrete house wail restlessly. The tap-tap carrying from the roof has gradually intensified; the faint pops call to mind the spitting of an open fire. The incredible speed with which the accumulation of white dunes on the patio now vanishes speaks of the gusts’ force. Maria Koponen knots her cardigan tightly around her waist and stares out the floor-to-ceiling windows into the darkness. She gazes at the frozen sea—which at this time of year is remarkably reminiscent of a vast, flat field—and then at the path plowed down to the dock, illuminated by knee-high yard lights.
Maria curls her toes into the plush carpet that reaches almost to the edges of the expansive floor. It’s warm inside the house, cocoonlike. Even so, Maria feels uneasy, and the tiniest grievances strike her as unusually annoying tonight. Like those damn expensive yard lights that still don’t work the way they should.
Maria is roused from her reverie when she realizes the music has stopped. She walks past the fireplace to the enormous bookshelf, where her husband’s collection of four hundred records has been organized in five neat rows. Over the years, Maria has gotten used to the fact that, in this household, music is not played from a smartphone. Vinyl just sounds a hell of a lot better. That’s what Roger said to her years ago, when she paused in front of the collection for the first time. There were more than three hundred albums then, a hundred fewer than now. The fact that the number of records has grown slowly, comparatively speaking, during their shared existence makes Maria think about how much life Roger lived before her. Without her. Maria was with only one man before Roger: a high school romance that had led to marrying young and ended with her meeting the famous writer. Unlike Roger, Maria has never tasted the single life. Sometimes she wishes she’d also had a chance to experience irresponsible floundering, finding herself, one-night stands. Freedom.
Maria is not the least bit bothered by the fact that Roger is sixteen years her senior. But a thought has begun to nag at her: that she might one day wake up to a sense of restlessness, the sort that will not die until she has plunged into the unknown a sufficient number of times. And Roger already had the chance to experience that in his previous life. Now, suddenly, on this stormy February night Maria spends pacing alone around their massive waterfront home, she sees this as a threat for the first time. An imbalance that could cause the ship of their relationship to list dangerously, were they ever to drift into a true storm.
Maria lifts the needle of the record player, takes the vinyl disc between her fingertips, and slides it carefully into its cardboard sleeve, where a young artist in a brown suede jacket and a black-and-white-checked scarf looks directly into the camera, self-assured and surly. Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. Maria returns the record to its place and picks a new one at random from the end of the alphabetically organized collection. A moment later, after a brief crackle, Stevie Wonder’s honeyed, compassionate voice reverberates from the speakers.
And then Maria sees it again. This time out of the corner of her eye. The yard light closest to the shore drifts off for a moment. And comes back on.
It goes dark for only a fraction of a second, just as it did a moment before. Maria knows the lighting elements glowing inside the fixtures were replaced before Christmas. She remembers it well, because she is the one who paid the electrician’s tastelessly inflated invoice. And for that reason, this trivial matter kindles an inordinate pique in her.
Maria grabs her phone and taps out a message to Roger. She isn’t sure why she feels the urge to trouble her husband with such a matter, especially since she knows he is on a stage addressing his readers at this very moment. Perhaps the cause is a fleeting flurry of loneliness, mingled with a dash of uncertainty and unjustified jealousy. Maria watches her sent message for a moment, waiting for the little arrows at the bottom edge to turn blue, but they don’t; Roger is not paying attention to his phone.
At that moment, the record gets stuck: What I’m about to. What I’m about to. What I’m . . . Wonder’s voice sounds uncertain, thanks to the bit excised from the beautiful sentiment. Some of Roger’s records are in such poor condition they aren’t worth keeping. Doesn’t anything in this goddamn house work?
And then Maria feels a cold wave wash over her. Before she has time to make sense of what she has just realized, she looks out the sliding doors and sees something that doesn’t belong there. For a moment the contours line up with those of her reflection. But then the figure moves, transforming into a distinct entity of its own.