In the deep woods where witches were once burned, on the shores of the rushing river that has accepted human offerings for centuries, folklore endures – and women who don’t conform still live dangerously.
Snow is lashing against the windshield of 34-year-old Annie Ljung’s car as she drives north towards the sleepy village of Lockne. She has left her job as a social worker in Stockholm for a few days to check in on her sick mother, and she knows that it won’t be a happy homecoming. A scar on her neck reminds Annie of what made her leave all those years ago, and she is terrified of facing it.
Annie’s stay in Lockne is prolonged against her will when her 17-year-old cousin Saga goes missing. At first, the police don’t seem to take the disappearance seriously. There are indications that Saga left home of her own will, but parents Sven and Lillemor insist their daughter had no reason to run away.
In town, Annie turns heads: she and the missing girl look eerily alike, and she can’t shake the feeling that people are whispering behind her back. Annie wants desperately to leave but Sven and Lillemor beg her to stay, and she is reluctant to abandon her mother. She also runs into her high-school sweetheart and her teenage best friend, who both stir up long-buried emotions. When she loses her job, it is as though the place itself is urging Annie to stay and try to come to terms with what once happened to her.
The police investigation seems to be going nowhere and Annie, not one to sit idle, begins to delve into Saga’s disappearance on her own. She takes a job at the social service office in town in order to get insight into the case. Annie has an ability to make people open up to her and she quickly has the local policemen wrapped around her finger. Soon she uncovers signs that her young cousin was keeping secrets. Perhaps Saga was not the good girl her parents make her out to be? When another teenage girl is found drugged into a coma, Annie understands the answers they are seeking are much more sinister than anyone suspected…
Heart of Prey is inspired by a historical murder case, set in an area of Sweden where witches were burned in the 1600s. In the broken yet bold social worker Annie Ljung, debut writer Ulrika Rolfsdotter has created a fresh new heroine who approaches police work from an unexpected angle. In this nail-biting debut from a new Scandinavian crime star, the witch hunts of the past have taken haunting new forms in the present.
“When Annie Ljung’s mother who has dementia is found outside in the cold in a confused state, Annie is forced to return to her hometown. Something she never planned to do, after what happened there once. For the protagonist, this is the beginning of an upsetting confrontation with ghosts from her past and an old darkness in the area that traces far back in time. Heart of Prey is an incredibly strong debut that brings fresh blood to the abundance of Swedish crime novels. The book is balanced in tone and style and the characters and milieus are beautifully portrayed. It is an urgent and moving topic, and a suspenseful and captivating plot with elements of folklore and mystery that calls the mind to Kerstin Ekman’s Blackwater (1993). It leaves you begging for more of Annie Ljung.”
BTJ, 4/5 (SE)
“Rolfsdotter really knows plot and how to build suspense. Through the disappearance of 17-year-old Saga, we get to know the people around both her and Annie, while we must wait to learn the answer to what really happened to Annie. The storytelling is propulsive, told through short chapters, and at the same time the milieus are given ample room to really set the atmosphere. […] I can’t wait to return to Annie and this landscape with all of its dramatic history and fantastic nature.”
“Ulrika Rolfsdotter’s debut is a welcome surprise. There’s a great appetite for crime novels and the result is a slew of subpar publications but this debut writer really has great promise. Indeed, she may well become this year’s breakout suspense star.”
Gefle Dagblad (SE)
“In a small-town where everyone knows each other, ghosts from the past chase through this thrilling and urgent debut novel.”
Aftonbladet Söndag (SE)
“Ulrika Rolfsdotter writes a vivid portrayal of a depopulation area where the last small country store is about to go bankrupt. […] An unusually strong debut.”
Lotta Olsson, Dagens Nyheter (SE)
“Many awards ought to end up with this debut writer; this is incredibly good! […] With restrained storytelling through two short chapters, [Rolfsdotter] quickly turns two completely new characters to human beings full of life. Annie and Sven are people who carry most of the narrative perspective in this novel. After only a few pages, we are well acquainted with them, as with the core of the story. It is tremendously skilfully done! […] What I love the most are cleverly composed symphonies where we at all times move between calm and intense passages. This text reminds me of Bolero by Ravel, that is a constant movement from calmness towards an ever increasing intensity. And I like Bolero, a lot. […] Multiple endings is nothing new, but it is rarely as well done as here. Right when you think you know what’s happened, another question arises that begs for answers. The plot thickens, Bolero’s kettledrums thunders even more vehemently. To me it goes without saying that this book will be on the shortlist for the award for Best Crime Debut this year.”
“There’s no doubt about what kind of area we’re in: ‘Pine forests and dark water, gravel tracks and abandoned sawmills. Shy faces behind closed curtains. Deregistered cars. Bottomless rivers. Never-ending forests to get lost in’. But it is also ‘treacherously beautiful’. And it’s not least the familiarity of the small-town, where everyone knows each other, and are aware of other people’s doings. For good and bad. Behind the intimate facade lies implied hierarchies, irreconcilable conflicts, dark secrets, and unforgiven injustices. […] At the heart of this suspense novel is the theme of how violence against women is silenced in society, and how the victims carry the blame. A topic that is uncannily current right now, and has been ever since the days of the witch trials. When Anne Ljung is forced to face her inner demons she does so in a tale packed with darkness, death, and tragical events. […] Rolfsdotter ties it all together brilliantly.”
Tidningen Ångermanland (SE)
“You can tell that Ulrika Rolfsdotter knows what she’s writing about. The milieus are so immaculately portrayed and you can really feel the northern melancholy and the beautiful landscape. This is a book with a plot that really stands out, because it is inspired by ancient folklore, witch trials, and a true crime from the 1800s. I love the language that with credibility portrays interesting characters in a rural area in our time with modern problems, but also people who bear the mark of history – both of their own upbringing, but also of the history of their surroundings, old legends and stories from the past. Sometimes, the true suspense lies in what you don’t know, what you can’t explain, but that exists nonetheless like an uneasiness. […] Don’t miss out on this thrilling rural novel called Heart of Prey. This is a captivating and well-written debut that brings the present together with the past in an authentic and fascinating blend.”
P4 Västernorrland (SE)