The First Strokes of Paint: Chapter 1

The ground crumbles beneath stunted yellow grass, as Bo Falk shines the beam of his halogen lamp across the field. It’s over thirty degrees Celsius in the day, twenty at night, making the carcass of the dead ewe bloat in the heat. He clicks the lamp off and on again, seeing first one beast, then another, capturing what he knows to be the predatory gaze of the wolf. Bo’s ewe could have been killed in the night, the gasses encouraged by the heat. This is the pair he has heard about, the wolves rumoured to have made their den somewhere in the woods, between the Falk family farm and his neighbours’. Bo watches the wolves as they watch him, and then he shouts at them, the law says that’s all he can do.

“Bugger off, you evil brutes. The devil take you. This is my land. Mine.”

Bo kicks at the dusty surface of his field, cursing the land as he curses the wolves. There’s no fodder. He’s already exceeded the summer budget, piling on the debt until the money is nothing but numbers and the bank pumps more money into Bo Falk, money for feed, money for water. Falk men and women have farmed this land for six generations, and now there is only debt to pass to his son, and more debt that his son will pass on to his children. Last year it was unseasonably wet, this year a drought, and now the wolf.

Bo hurls the trigger lamp across the field, hears it crash on the dry earth beyond the carcass, pulls out his phone as the light disappears with the splinter of glass, and strides across the dead grass to his dead sheep. The wolves are gone.

“Bo?” his wife calls, peering into the darkness, her t-shirt clinging damp to her skin, her hair, slick with sweat, sticking to her cheeks, her forehead, her shoulders. “What is it?”

“Wolves,” he says. “I’m calling Viktoria.”

“Now? It’s three in the morning.”

“Yes, now. Get Jacob up.”

“He’s asleep, Bo.”

“He needs to see this.”

“Can’t he see it in the morning?”

He ignores her and she hears him bark something at the farm veterinarian. If she drives now, she’ll be at the Falk farm in just twenty minutes, long before first light. If she leaves now. Camilla Falk isn’t so sure, not about that, and not about the wolves. But if Bo says it is wolves, she believes him.

Camilla walks back to the farmhouse, her heels rubbing inside the leather boots, the soles slap slapping on the cobbles, dragging dust from the dry paddock. The crickets rub frantic legs together and she is distracted as she tries to remember the last time there were so many. Not last year, last year was too wet.

“And now too dry,” she says, her last thought on the crickets as she unlatches the door to the main house. Falk farm lies just four kilometres outside the village of Thyrup, West Jutland, just a spit and a strong gust of wind to the sea, the broad beaches, the tourist traps of the Danish west coast. Camilla kicks off the boots, pads through the stone-flagged kitchen and along the short corridor, past the painting of the church cross on the hillside to Jacob’s room. He’s sleeping, legs sprawled over the rumpled bed sheet, duvet on the floor, window open. She enters the room, presses a small hand on his bare shoulder, shakes him gently and whispers him awake.

“It’s not even dawn,” he mumbles, his mouth thick with warm air, eyes gritty with sleep.

“Your father wants you.”

“Now?”

“A sheep is dead. One of the ewes. You need to come.”

“Wolves?” Jacob asks, as he presses one hand flat on the bed to sit up.

“Yes.”

Jacob nods, find his jeans on the floor, tugs them over his large bare feet. His mother steadies him as he stumbles, his foot catching in the denim trouser leg.

“Still asleep,” he says, almost laughing.

Jacob zips and buttons his jeans, buckles the chafed leather belt. There’s a plastic knife sheath looped on one side of his belt, but he doesn’t remember where the knife is. He’ll buy another from the store. He scours the floor of his room for a t-shirt as his mother leaves. She fills the kettle as he plods from his room to the kitchen, pulling a shirt over his lean stomach.

These are lean times, Camilla thinks as she brushes his cheek with her hand, kisses him before she starts breakfast. Jacob slips his bare feet inside the same boots she had worn – his boots. He dips his head to peer out of the leaded window to the right of the door, grabs a torch from the windowsill, and goes outside.

There is a tree, an oak, in the centre of the Falk family farm. Jacob swung beneath it as a child, climbed it as a teenager, he might curse it as a man, as his father does each morning, cursing it to the roots; the roots that run deep, anchoring them to the land. They will never leave. Jacob walks beneath the bough, feathers his palm over the trunk. He loves it still, he hasn’t learned to hate it, not yet.

He finds his father by the ewe and turns on his torch with a click. He directs the beam at the ragged hind leg and plays it over the distended belly, encouraged by the heat of the seventh tropical night in a row in Viking lands. His father takes the torch, flicks his hand against Jacob’s chest, and points to the road.

“Here comes Viktoria,” his father says, as lights bump along the beech-lined gravel road running straight between the fields to the farm, three hundred metres from the Thyrup road.

“You called the vet?” Jacob points at the ewe. “It’s dead.”

“And so will we be if they don’t listen.”

“They?”

“Christiansborg. Parliament needs to listen, Jacob. We have to make them.”

“But calling the vet at…” Jacob looks up at the sky. “It’s not even four.”

“Go and meet her.”

Jacob turns, kicking at the dust as he walks across the dead grass to where Viktoria parks her car. She used to babysit when his parents went to the dance. He might have tried to kiss her once, before she married. Now he just stares when he can get away with it, shrugs when she catches him.

“A dead ewe, Jacob, what is he thinking?” she says, as she steps out of the car – a Volvo – so new the dust is streaked in apologetic lines, reluctant to cling, unlike the thick layers clogged beneath the flakes of rust on the Falk family tractor.

“He says it’s wolves.”

“Is that right?”

Viktoria grabs a torch from the boot of the Volvo. She clicks it on and, for just a second, the light catches her hair, teasing Jacob with a flash of lust, a memory of that almost kiss. Was she eight years older than him? He doesn’t remember, he just watches her close the boot and then follows her as she walks along the northern wing of the farm. He jogs once to catch up until he stands beside her and his father, the three of them beside the dead sheep.

“Bo,” Viktoria says, as she crouches by the sheep and examines the carcass in the light, flaring the nostrils with her fingers, lifting the hind leg with her hand. She shines the light over the ragged lacerations, nods when Bo tells Jacob to turn the sheep, and finds another wound in the belly, smears of blood caked in dust. Viktoria clicks off the torch as she stands up.

“Well?” Bo asks.

“It could be a wolf,” she says. “It could be a dog.”

“It’s not a dog.”

Viktoria sighs. “Then you don’t need me, Bo. You already know what it is.” She looks at him. “But what do I care? It’s your money.”

“Say it’s a wolf.”

“It might be. But we don’t know.”

“I saw them.”

“Wolves?”

“Over there,” Bo points. “Anton’s seen them too.”

“Anton Bjerg? He never said anything to me.”

“He doesn’t have sheep. The wolves are cowards, they won’t touch his cattle.”

“Bo,” Viktoria says. “It’s tourist season. You know what it’s like. The beaches are crowded, there’s a dog in every other family. They get loose. Every year.”

“This isn’t a dog, or dogs, Viktoria. These are wolf bites. They are making their den, on my land.”

Jacob watches his father, sees the lines crease his forehead, ticking and tugging at the skin around his eyes, as the first light fills the sky. The church spire is now visible on the low hill that presses out of the parched earth between the farm, the fields and the village. The poorer fields are yellow and dry, green only where the water is pumped and sprayed over the crops for five thousand Danish kroners a day.

A wet season, a dry season, and now wolves, denning in the woods.

“I’m calling Tilde after breakfast,” Bo says.

“Tilde Sørensen?”

“From Thyrup Dagbladet. She’ll want to talk to you.”

“Why?”

“Because I’ll tell her you said it was a wolf.”

“For God’s sake, Bo…”

Bo clenches his fists by his sides. He takes a long breath, as he waits for Viktoria to settle. Jacob lets the sheep roll back onto its side and stands up.

“Your dad had a farm, Viktoria,” Bo says.

Had,” she says. “He went bankrupt.”

“He was a friend of mine.”

“Until cancer put in him a hospice.” Viktoria gestures at the church. “And then Aage Dahl buried him. Right over there.”

“He can see us, you know.”

“It’s a little early for Aage, don’t you think.”

“I was talking about your dad.”

“I know,” Viktoria says.

“Then help me,” Bo says, as he reaches for Viktoria’s arm. “We’re struggling, this year more than most. It’s the drought, and now the wolves. One takes my crops, the other my sheep. Say it’s a wolf, Viktoria.”

“It might be,” she says, as Bo lets go of her arm.

“Say it is.”

Viktoria nods, ever so quickly, and Jacob sees it. He follows her to the car when Bo tells him to. The grass, dead straw, hollow vines and husks, scratch along the leather of their shoes until they both reach the cobbles, and the dust settles between the stones. The light is stronger now, and Jacob can see strands of Viktoria’s hair clinging to her cheeks, tiny beads of sweat between the top of her lip and her nose. There’s not a lick of wind, nothing to hide the sudden thud and thump of teenage lust in his chest, the tingle in his fingers.

Married, he thinks.

Viktoria opens the boot of the Volvo, tosses the torch into a plastic crate, and looks at him through the glass. She almost smiles at the look in his eyes, and he wonders if she remembers the half kiss when he was seventeen.

“You’ve grown up,” she says, as she closes the boot.

“What?” His throat is sticky, and he licks his top lip.

“Don’t be like your father. He’ll die on this farm, or it’ll kill him, like my father.”

“You said it was cancer.”

“Farming is a cancer, Jacob,” Viktoria says. She opens the car door and gets in. “I’ll tell Tilde it’s a wolf,” she says.

Jacob nods, turning as his father walks past the end of the north wing, calling out something about breakfast, with a nod towards the kitchen.

“Between the bank and the politicians, what’s one more predator, eh?” Viktoria says, as she starts the car.

Jacob takes a step back as she closes the door and reverses into the courtyard. He watches her go, waits until she has reached the road, and then turns to look over his shoulder at the church on the hill, and the woods below. There the wolf lurks beneath the trees, the vet will confirm it, the local paper will report it. The wolf summer begins.

 

About Paint the Devil

As the wolf debate heats up during Denmark’s hottest and driest summer on record, wildlife biologist Jon Østergård and his teenage daughter relocate to the West Jutland village of Thyrup, to study problem wolves in a community divided by fear, belief, opinions and violence.

Jon quickly discovers that his experience of wolves in Greenland means nothing in a farming community fighting to have their voice heard in an increasingly divisive national debate.

Pressed by politicians demanding an objective report on one side, and locals on the other, Jon risks losing his way as the debate turns ugly, and his daughter is drawn into a family convinced that extreme action is necessary to protect their livelihood. 

Sporadic wildfires flare up in the surrounding countryside, and the flames force a small pack of wolves closer and closer to the village.

Available from Amazon

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Wolf Summer!

After 199 years, the wolf has returned to Denmark. Big wolves, similar in size to Timber Wolves, cross the border from Germany. The first was spotted back in 2012, which was interesting, as I was living way north – practically in white wolf country – in Qaanaaq, at the top of Greenland. I did live in polar bear country, and bought a shotgun at the supermarket – as you do – at the suggestion of a local hunter. The area around Qaanaaq is a denning area for bears. But, despite bears coming in the night, I didn’t see one, and no wolves in the two years I lived there. But, wolves were in Denmark, and it made the move back a little more palatable.

The Danish nature was/is rewilding.

But wolves have a habit of stirring up trouble, regardless of statistics, and that got me wondering. The idea of Paint the Devil was born, and as the debate really kicked off earlier this year, the book started to write itself.

There are always two sides to a story, but Paint the Devil has a third – the story of the wolves, something the main character: wildlife biologist Jon Østergård has to take into consideration as he navigates through the heated debates and opinions dividing the community of Thyrup, a small (fictive) village on Denmark’s west coast.

So, without further ado, here’s the blurb, the links, and the cover for Paint the Devil, available for pre-order and scheduled for release in October.

As the wolf debate heats up during Denmark’s hottest and driest summer on record, wildlife biologist Jon Østergård and his teenage daughter relocate to the West Jutland village of Thyrup, to study problem wolves in a community divided by fear, belief, opinions and violence.

Jon quickly discovers that his experience of wolves in Greenland means nothing in a farming community fighting to have their voice heard in an increasingly divisive national debate.

Pressed by politicians demanding an objective report on one side, and locals on the other, Jon risks losing his way as the debate turns ugly, and his daughter is drawn into a family convinced that extreme action is necessary to protect their livelihood. 

Sporadic wildfires flare up in the surrounding countryside, and the flames force a small pack of wolves closer and closer to the village.

Available from Amazon

USAUKCanada and Australia

The Blood is Floeing

Here’s a teaser, the opening paragraph from Blood Floe.

Even in the unfathomable dark of the polar winter there is always light. The moon reflecting on the surface of the sea ice, the green and white curtains of the Northern Lights twisting across the black night sky, the stars, pinpricks of light scrutinising the tiny villages and settlements dotted along the west coast of Greenland, the houses casting warm yellow squares onto the snow through thick-paned windows, the tiny red lights of the radio mast glowing above the graveyard on the mountain’s knee above the settlement of Inussuk, and a cigarette burning a bright orange, a smouldering flame just a few centimetres from the lips of the man wearing a headlamp, that he shined with slow drifts of his head to the left and right, as he searched for that damned dog that shunned the harness and refused to be trained.

Available for pre-order at just 0.99 from Amazon

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Seven Graves One Winter

This is it then, Constable David Maratse is going into retirement … and launching a whole new series of crime books!

Crazy, I know, but this is how it is going to work. He thinks he is being invalided off the force, but it just isn’t going to go his way – not at all.

Settling into the life of a subsistence fisherman in a remote Arctic community in Greenland? Never gonna happen! It’s time to get busy, dig some graves!

Seven Graves One Winter is the first in series of true crime books set in Greenland. More news as soon as I have it!

Until then, if you’d like to pre-order, here are the links on Amazon:

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The Shaman’s House

In the eyes of the Danish government, Konstabel Fenna Brongaard has switched sides and gone rogue. The collateral damage she left in her wake in Greenland’s capital, Nuuk, has been brushed away by a shadowy figure known as The Magician. In return for his assistance, Fenna is tasked with entering the United States in the wake of a Presidential assassination, with one clear goal: to apprehend the assassin. As her list of allies grows thin, Fenna teams up with the man responsible for the death of her Sirius Patrol partner. Together, they must get the assassin out of North America and to a safe house in a remote country. Fenna knows the end game is in sight, and, if she is to survive it, she needs to choose the terrain and the location.

She chooses Greenland.

She chooses the Shaman’s House.

The stakes are higher, the action more intense, and the environment raw, wild, and lethal.

The final installment in the Greenland Trilogy is now available for pre-order at a special pre-order price.

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Beg leave to inform, proceeding South

Chris and Ninja on the mountain, Uummannaq

One of my favourite and most battered books is Roland Huntford’s The Last Place on Earth. When I inherited my team of dogs in Uummannaq, Greenland, I experienced a sharp learning curve, and even sharper canine teeth. Along with the seven dogs, the hunter threw a frozen seal into the bargain. The deal was I would look after his dogs for the winter, learn to drive a team, and he would pick them up again in the summer.

He never came back.

That seal though… the idea was I could cut chunks out of it, and feed the blubber to the dogs when the temperature dipped below minus 17 celsius. This happened a lot, but not before the seal knocked me off my feet every time I opened the shed door. Seals are very streamlined, and, with its flippers frozen to its sides, my seal shot out of the shed like a torpedo every time I braved the weather to feed the dogs. Something had to be done.

I found the answer in Huntford’s book. Amundsen and his men shot seals in Antarctica when preparing food caches for their race to the pole. The trick was waiting until the seal was frozen and sawing off the flippers to make a flat base. The Norwegians made a food depot, using the seals – noses up, flippers at their sides – as the walls of the cache. I read this passage three times before I put down the book and grabbed my saw.

The dogs howled as I went about my work, turning my torpedo into a four foot high popsicle with long, leathery whiskers. I rolled the seal into the shed and slid it into the corner. The dogs chewed on the flippers and blubbery chunks after dinner.

Life in the Arctic is all about firsts. This was the first time I had owned a team, the first time I sawed through a seal, and the first time I truly felt I was following in the famous Norwegian’s footsteps.

Curious or horrified? You can get a flavour of Greenland by reading The Ice Star, available for Kindle eReaders, Kindle apps, and in paperback from Amazon:

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The Sands of Sacrifice

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I am not the only writer with a “good luck tradition”, but I might be one of the few where the tradition can potentially lead to the complete destruction of the manuscript. When I have my final rough draft I stick it in my backpack and drive to the beach. The West Coast of Denmark has one long, broad, fantastic beach, with plenty of waves. The tradition involves tossing the manuscript onto the sand at the surf line and grabbing it before the waves surge onto the beach. If I manage to get it before it is sucked out to sea, then I presume the story to be good enough to edit. If I get wet, and a struggle ensues, then I know that I am invested in the story, and will do what it takes to get it ready for publication.

It took me about three and a half years to reach the point where I was ready to toss The Ice Star into the sea, I am pleased to say it only took a few seconds to decide to grab it!

If you’re curious to know more, feel free to sign-up for the newsletter here.

If you just want to sample the book, you can find it on Amazon:

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There’s no going back!

the-ice-star-25pctThe Ice Star is released tomorrow, and there’s no going back! This is it then, sink or swim.

Will Fenna capture reader’s imaginations?

Will I?

What happens if she does?

What happens if I do?

These are questions I haven’t asked before – haven’t felt the need to. But The Ice Star is doing pretty well just now, moving up the charts in “military thriller” and “international crime and mystery”. I haven’t seen this interest in my other books – it must be the genre.

And what a genre! There’s a lot of competition, and a lot of books competing with the readers’ interest and doing their best to grab their attention.

This is it though.

It’s time to test the ice!

The Ice Star is available for pre-order from Amazon at a reduced price. Spoiler(ish) alert – it’s serious all of a sudden.

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Thunderclapping!

ice-star-thunderclapThe Ice Star is a little over two weeks from launch. So this is it then, crunch time. Time to bite the bullet, duck and cover, or just sit back and ride the wave. Is it going to break through the ice, sink, or swim?

I have no idea.

But I could use your help.

If you would like to support the launch of The Ice Star, then please feel free to click on the link to the Thunderclap page, and click to add your support.

The more I think about it, the more I get excited about promoting Greenland, and the fate of the North Pole (oops, small spoiler) through the actions of Fenna, Dina, Kula and Maratse.

Thanks in advance for your help!

Frost Bite and Frozen Corpses

the-ice-starI have killed again.

I’m not proud of the fact, but I have lost track of the body count – it’s not huge, but enough. It got a little rough all of a sudden, racing by dog sledge to the endgame. It’s a thriller – of that I have no doubt. But the political machinations took me by surprise, as have the characters. I mean, the Greenlander – Dina, she has more guts than I will ever have! She shows it too.

And then there is Fenna – Konstabel Brongaard herself. She has shown what she is capable of, and yet, she’s human. A woman in a man’s world – it’s a cliché she is doing her best to turn around, without sleeping with the leading male protagonist. And why not? Well, she is the main protagonist!

Between the description of the sledge patrol, when nature shows its teeth, and the build up to the first “car chase” (it’s a little different than your usual fare), there is plenty to occupy Fenna. She really is in a bind – literally to begin with, and then, well, literally again.

You know, at this point, even I’m not sure she is going to make it.

The Ice Star is available for pre-order from Amazon at a reduced price. Spoiler(ish) alert – Canadians are cool, really, and I could imagine Ryan Gosling playing a role in The Ice Star.

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