Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Ask No Mercy by Martin Österdahl: Excerpt and Giveaway

Hi, everyone! Today I've got an excerpt from Martin Österdahl's Ask No Mercy, first in the Max Anger series and new out from Amazon Crossing, and a chance for you to win a copy of your very own. But first, here's a bit about the book from Goodreads to get you started:

Max Anger is a man on the edge. The former fighter in an elite band of special-ops soldiers in Sweden, Anger is haunted by battle scars, a childhood spent in the Stockholm archipelago, and his own mysterious family past. Now behind a desk at Vektor, a think tank conducting research on Russia, he’s met his match—and fallen in love—with fierce fellow operative Pashie Kovalenko. Like all of Vektor, she’s set her sights on the tenuous future of her country.

When Pashie goes missing in Saint Petersburg, Anger rushes headlong into a volatile Russia, where a new president is about to be elected in the midst of a technological revolution. At the movement’s heart is a start-up Pashie had been investigating, one surrounded by rumors of organized crime and corruption. But the truth is more shocking than Anger could have ever expected.

Now time is running out for Pashie. Racing through a storm of violence and deception, Anger gets ever closer to a sensational secret—and to the Russian madman with dreams of restoring one of the cruelest regimes in the history of the world.

An international thriller, translated and released here in the US for the first time, Ask No Mercy is set in Russia during the 90s. In other words, it sheds a bit of light on certain timely issues. 

And now for a bit of the book itself:

Ask No Mercy
by Martin Österdahl
Translated by Peter Sean Woltemade

Chapter 45

Margarita lay on the backseat of the jeep. Through the windshield, Max saw Ilya say something to the two vory and then point in the direction of the car.

No, don’t bring them over here, thought Max. Are you nuts?

One of the two men, the one with the tattoos, took out a cell phone. He spoke animatedly with someone for a few minutes and then put it away. He looked at the jeep and then at Ilya, who was approaching it.

Ilya knocked on the window on Max’s side. He rotated his index finger, and Max rolled down the window. Ilya reached toward the glove compartment, winking at Margarita. When he realized the glove compartment was empty, he looked at Max, who was holding the Makarov in his hand between the two front seats of the car. Ilya raised his eyebrows and took it from Max.

“Do you think you can drive this heap?”

Max nodded.

“Then I’ll see you back at the hotel.”

“But you can’t still be here when those two realize she’s gone.” 

As usual, Ilya shrugged.

“Don’t worry about me,” he said. “I have this.”

He waved goodbye with the Makarov in his hand, then turned around and started walking toward the vory.

Max wriggled over to the driver’s seat while he watched Ilya’s back recede. Would they ever see each other again? He pushed away such thoughts; he needed to show Ilya the trust he deserved. And get Margarita and her children to safety.

He started the engine and drove away without looking toward the men.

Margarita and Max didn’t talk during the drive into Saint Petersburg. The smell of Margarita’s perfume, a floral chemical scent, mixed with that of the jeep’s exhaust.

She was safe now, at least for the time being; she had been saved from the fate of her Swiss lover, Marcel Rousseau, the man who had played with fire. The feeling of having ensured her safety filled Max with satisfaction.

At least one thing had gone their way.

Pashie had told him that Russian women preferred plastic flowers to real ones. She said that if she were ever to start a new career, it would be selling plastic flowers. They were the perfect product for the new Russia. Russians loved flashiness and beauty but were notoriously bad at maintenance. Real flowers required love and care; plastic flowers lasted forever. They were cheap and elegant; they demanded nothing of you; they were simply perfect. In fact, Max had never heard anyone in Russia express much appreciation for naturalness. On the contrary. Naturalness was associated with poverty and backwardness.

Pashie knew how she would compensate for the plastic flowers’ lack of scent: by spraying them with an artificial violet perfume that would be sure to increase sales. Max imagined this would be like the scent wafting from the backseat.

Max poured coffee until Margarita held up her hand.

“Thanks. That’s enough.”

Max sat across from Margarita and her children. They were occupying four rattan chairs under a reproduction of an old Saint Petersburg streetlamp in one of the hotel’s restaurants.

Above them, light shone in through the domed roof.

“You’re safe here,” said Max. “For the time being.”

Without looking up, Margarita poured sugar into her coffee and stirred the steaming black liquid. “What was it Marcel told you?”

Margarita looked up. For a moment she trembled, but she managed to pull herself together once again. “Why are you doing this?”

“I’m looking for a friend. You know that.”

“I want to leave Saint Petersburg,” she said. “I want to never set foot here again.” 

A waiter came by. Margarita ordered two banana milkshakes.

“Where would you go?”

“I have an uncle in Prague. I want to go there.” 

“Okay,” said Max. “If you talk now, I’ll take care of it.” 

She nodded.

“I know Marcel was employed by a large international company in the auditing sector in Switzerland,” said Max. “Why was he here in Saint Petersburg?”

“Marcel had certain weaknesses.”

“Don’t we all?”

Margarita took a sip of her coffee.

“He was still married,” she said. “Did you know that? He left a family behind in Switzerland.” 

“What brought him here?”

“The Arbeiterjugend,” said Margarita, grimacing.

“In Switzerland?”

Margarita shook her head.

“East Germany. His real name was Günther Baumann, and he was born and raised in Karl-Marx-Stadt. He was an excellent swimmer and a participant in the Festival of Youth and Students.”

Which was to say he’d been involved in the work of the Komsomol, the communist youth organization. The latest festival had been held in Pyongyang, North Korea, in 1989. The next was to take place in Havana, Cuba, in a year. “For anti-imperialist solidarity, peace, and friendship.”

“So he defected to the West? And ended up in Switzerland?” 

“Early in the summer of 1980.”

At that time there would only have been two possibilities. Either he had truly defected, which would have been difficult but had been managed by a small number of elite athletes, or he had been placed in the West by the organization that controlled all young lives and souls: Stasi, the super-effective East German intelligence service.

“And his wife?” asked Max.

“Swiss. All I know about her is that she demanded money. More money all the time.” “And his company, Brice & Stadthaller? And St. Petersburg GSM?”

“I swore I would never tell anyone . . .” She pulled in her quivering lower lip, looked up at the ceiling far above them. Finally, she looked at Max.

She was no longer bound by her oath.

“He said they were old contacts. And they’d made an offer he couldn’t refuse. Exactly what that meant, I don’t know. But I’ve thought about it a lot.”

“What kind of contacts? Political contacts? Military?”

“I don’t know. Marcel was a secretive man in many ways.” “And what was the offer?”

“He said we could live wherever we wanted, anywhere in the world.”

Margarita reached for a napkin lying next to one of the milkshakes that had arrived while she and Max had been talking. She wiped her cheek.

“He was going to leave her.”

“What do you think happened to him?”

“They murdered him.”

Max leaned forward. “Who murdered him?”

“He told me he was going to meet him. I could tell he was nervous about this meeting.” 

“Who is he?” asked Max.

“Marcel didn’t tell me his name. But he’s the leader, the boss.” 

“Can you guess who he is?”

Margarita’s expression changed again. It was as though she disappeared for a moment. Then she shook herself.

“He is the devil. He’s an old, strange-looking man. A large body and a small head. A ghost from our country’s darkest period.”

“Did Marcel call him anything? A nickname or a title?” 

Margarita leaned forward. Her voice was only a whisper.

“Joseph Stalin’s most beloved son.”

And now for the giveaway. To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, January 21. Open US only. 


Danielle H. said...

This book sounds amazing with the suspense, secrets, and romance. Plus the setting is intriguing.

traveler said...

Thanks for this captivating and enthralling novel.