It’s my stop on the #blogtour for the Heart Keeper today and I’m delighted to reveal an extract from this fabulous book.
Critically acclaimed author Alex Dahl explores how love can turn darkly sinister when a desperate mother looks to reconnect with her lost daughter in this riveting Norwegian set psychological suspense novel.
Two mothers. Two daughters. One heart.
When Alison’s beloved daughter Amalie drowns, her world turns impenetrably dark. Alison tries to hold it together throughout the bleak Fall, but in the darkest days of the Norwegian Winter she completely falls apart.
In another family, Amalie’s passing is a new beginning. After years of severe health problems, young Kaia receives a new heart on the morning after Amalie drowns. Her mother Iselin has struggled to raise Kaia on her own and now things are finally looking up. She’s even made an affluent new friend who’s taken a special interest in her and her daughter.
Alison knows she shouldn’t interfere, but really, she’s just trying to help Iselin and Kaia. She can give them the life they never had, and by staying close to them, she can still be with her daughter. Kaia is just like her, and surely, something of Amalie must live on in her. As her grief transforms into a terrifying obsession, Alison won’t let anything stop her from getting back what she has lost.
Sindre is standing at the worktop, which runs alongside an entire wall of the garage.
It’s where he usually stands in winter, patiently prepping our family’s cross-country
skis with wax before the weekends – Oliver’s slim racing skis first, then his own, then my beginner ones, and finally Amalie’s short, broad ones with sparkly snow crystals and Queen Elsa’s face stretching toward the tips. I am standing in the space between the house and the garage, bracing myself against the wind, which is much fiercer than I’d thought, and I can just make out those little skis on a hook high up on the wall. Sindre stands with his back to me, but I can make out most of what is on the worktop in front of him. He moves strangely, at times fast and jerkily, at times slowly and smoothly, and it takes me a while to realize that he is polishing weapons. He detaches the telescope from a long, matte hunting rifle, holds it up to the light, then runs a red cloth over the lens. He’s going away in a couple of weeks, moose hunting. I’d forgotten. He goes every year at this time – of course he needs to prepare for that.
A volley of rain surges around the corner of the house and shoots down the
pathway, pricking my face and hands painfully and I draw my cardigan around me
tighter, but I’m so cold, and perhaps a little cry escapes me, because Sindre suddenly
turns around and walks over to the narrow window to peer out. Though I’m not sure
why, I press myself against the wall next to the window so he can’t see me. I could
just knock lightly on the door and slip into the garage and hug my husband from
behind. I could offer him a coffee – I can’t imagine either of us will return to bed
tonight. But I don’t. I remain in the passageway, watching him carefully dismantle
and reassemble the two rifles, running the cloth in and out of their nooks and crannies. When he has finished he reaches up and lifts a cardboard box down from a shelf above him. It looks like a nondescript brown shoebox. He opens it and removes some newspaper, a kitchen towel, and then, an object.
At first, I can’t tell what it is; it isn’t big, and because Sindre’s back is turned
toward me, he is partially blocking my view. Then he puts whatever it is down and
takes a couple of steps away to his right, presumably to get something else. I can see
it clearly now – it is a steel-gray handgun I’ve never seen before. He opens another
box, this one much smaller than the one that held the gun, and shakes several bullets
out into his hand. He holds one up to the light, turning it over and around before
slotting it, and the others, into the gun’s chambers.
I sometimes think about Sindre’s other life, the life he lived before me. Before our
family. I imagine him as he would have been then: in his army helmet and fatigues,
trekking in the mountains of the Hindu Kush and Badakhshan, circling in on some of
the most wanted war criminals and terrorists in the world. He’d take shelter in caves
and sheepherders’ huts, drink from impossibly clear mountain streams, inching his
way toward a target until he was close enough to take them out clean. I see him
squinting into the sight block – a man’s skull framed, the absolute certainty of his
finger on the trigger, the precise, muffled shot. I’ve never asked Sindre how many
men he’s killed. Neutralized, he calls it. I don’t know if he knows. Would he count
something like that? I know I would.
The life Sindre lived before me and our family seems an almost impossible
contrast to the life I lived: growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, then traveling
the world – first for fun, and later for work, writing features for glossy magazines and newspaper supplements. I’ve interviewed female heads of state from New Zealand to Iceland, I’ve explored the drug cultures of South American women’s prisons and looked into the increasing wine consumption of the American middle class. When Sindre traveled, it would be to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan – places he’d go to kill.
He picks up the handgun again, weighs it in his hands, turns it over and smiles
slightly down at it. It occurs to me that he may be about to use it, that he could bring it quickly to his temple and just fire. Still I don’t go in; still I stand watching. What
would my husband need a pistol for? I can understand that he needs to keep the
hunting rifles, but I can’t imagine what use he could have for a handgun. Maybe he’s
always had it, but just hasn’t mentioned it to me? There are many things I don’t know about Sindre, and that air of mystery which seems innate rather than deliberate is precisely one of the things that drew me to him in the first place.
Sindre places the gun back in the box, and the box back up on the shelf. He stands
still for a while at the worktop, head bent. I look at his hands – how soft and innocent they look in the meager light. Perhaps he is thinking the same thing because he raises them up toward the light and watches them, turning them over a couple of times. Then he cups them, holding them a few inches apart: his exact pose the first time he held our baby, slick from the womb – one hand underneath her bottom, one cradling her skull. I turn away from him, letting my eyes rest on the scrambling leaves at my feet. When I look back up again, Sindre is studying the palms of his hands, as though searching for clues as to what they’re capable of. I walk back into the house.
About the Author
Alex Dahl was born in Oslo and is the critically acclaimed author of The Boy at the Door. She graduated with a B.A. in Russian and German linguistics with international studies and went on to complete an M.A. in creative writing at Bath Spa University, followed by an M.S. in business management at Bath University. Alex has published short stories in the U.K. and the U.S. and is a serious Francophile.
If you enjoyed the extract from the Heart Keeper, please check out my other posts and also the other stops on the #blogtour below.
My thanks go to the publisher for an early digital file of the book.
The Heart Keeper is published in hardcover in July and is available to pre order here