The body of 92-year-old Jossi Goldberg, Holocaust survivor and American citizen, is found shot to death execution style in his house near Frankfurt. A five-digit number is scrawled in blood at the murder scene. The autopsy reveals an old and unsuccessfully covered tattoo on the corpse's arma blood type marker once used by Hitler's SS. Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver Bodenstein are faced with a riddle. Was the old man not Jewish after all? Who was he, really? Two more, similar murders happenone of a wheelchair-bound old lady in a nursing home, and one of a man with a cellar filled with Nazi paraphernaliaand slowly the connections between the victims becomes evident: All of them were lifelong friends with Vera von Kaltensee, baroness, well-respected philanthropist, and head of an old, rich family that she rules with an iron fist. Pia and Oliver follow the trail, which leads them all the way back to the end of World War II and the area of Poland that then belonged to East Prussia. No one is who they claim to be, and things only begin to make sense when the two investigators realize what the bloody number stands for, and uncover an old diary and an eyewitness who is finally willing to come forward.
Nele Neuhaus's The Ice Queen is a character- and plot-driven mystery about revenge, power, and long-forgotten and covered up secrets from a time in German history that still affects the present.
About the Author
NELE NEUHAUS is one of the most widely read German mystery writers and the author of Snow White Must Die and Bad Wolf. More than four million copies of her books are currently in print. She lives near Frankfurt, Germany.
Read an Excerpt
The Ice Queen
By Nele Neuhaus, Steven T. Murray
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2009 Nele Neuhaus
All rights reserved.
Saturday, April 28
Oliver von Bodenstein took the saucepan of hot milk off the burner, stirred in two spoonfuls of cocoa powder, and poured the steaming mixture into a pitcher. As long as Cosima was breast-feeding, she did without her beloved coffee, and he occasionally showed solidarity with her. Besides, a cup of hot chocolate was nothing to be scoffed at. His eyes met those of Rosalie, and he grinned when he saw the critical expression on his nineteen-year-old daughter's face.
"That's got to be at least two thousand calories," she said, wrinkling her nose. "How can you!"
"Now you see what sacrifices we make for our children's sake," he replied.
"I certainly wouldn't do without my coffee," she said, demonstratively taking a sip from her cup.
"Just you wait." Oliver took two mugs from the cupboard and set them on a tray next to the pitcher of cocoa. Cosima had gone back to bed because the baby had roused her at 5:00 A.M. Her whole life had changed completely since the birth of Sophia Gabriela last December. The first shock at the news that he and Cosima were going to be parents again had brought a sense of happy anticipation, which then gave way to apprehension. Lorenz and Rosalie were twenty-three and nineteen, respectively, grown up and done with school. How would it be to start over again? Could he and Cosima even do it? Would the child be healthy? Bodenstein's secret concerns had proved groundless. Cosima had continued to work until the day before the delivery, and the reassuring results from a test of her amniotic fluid had been confirmed when Sophia was born: The baby was perfect in every way. And now, after scarcely four months, Cosima was going to the office every day, taking the baby with her in a carrier. Actually, Oliver mused, it was all much easier than it had been with Lorenz and Rosalie. Sure, he and Cosima had been younger then and more energetic, but they hadn't had much money and lived in a small apartment. At the time, he had also sensed that Cosima was depressed about having to give up her job as a TV reporter, which she loved.
"Why are you up so early anyway?" he asked his eldest daughter. "It's Saturday."
"I have to be at the castle at nine," Rosalie replied. "We have a gigantic event today. A champagne reception and then a six-course dinner for thirty-five people. We're giving a party for one of Grandma's friends who is celebrating her eighty-fifth birthday."
After finishing her exams last summer, instead of going to university, Rosalie had decided to serve an apprenticeship as a cook at the elegant restaurant owned by Oliver's brother Quentin and his wife, Marie-Louise. To her parents' surprise, Rosalie was full of enthusiasm about the job. She never complained about the barbaric working hours or her strict and choleric boss. Cosima suspected that it was this very boss, the temperamental star chef Jean-Yves St. Clair, who was the real reason behind Rosalie's choice of work.
"They've changed the menu, the wine list, and the number of guests at least ten times." Rosalie put her coffee cup in the dishwasher. "I'm anxious to know whether they've come up with any more changes."
The telephone rang. At 8:30 on a Saturday morning, that seldom boded well. Rosalie picked it up and soon returned to the kitchen with the cordless phone. "For you, Dad," she said, holding the phone out to him and then leaving with a brief wave. Oliver sighed. He supposed nothing was going to come of his planned walk in the Taunus and a pleasant dinner with Cosima and Sophia. His fears were confirmed when he heard the tense voice of Detective Inspector Pia Kirchhoff.
"We've got a body. I know I'm on call today, but maybe you should take a brief look, boss. The man was a big shot, and an American."
It was sounding a lot like a ruined weekend.
"Where?" Bodenstein asked curtly.
"It's not far. Kelkheim. The address is Drosselweg Thirty-nine a. David Goldberg. His housekeeper found him at around seven-thirty this morning."
Bodenstein promised to hurry, then took Cosima her hot chocolate and broke the bad news to her.
"Dead bodies should be banned on weekends," Cosima murmured with a big yawn. Oliver smiled. Not once in their twenty- four years of marriage had his wife ever reacted with anger or displeasure when he suddenly had to leave, ruining their plans for the day. She sat up straight and grabbed the cup. "Thanks. Where do you have to go?"
Oliver took a shirt from the wardrobe. "Over to Drosselweg. I could actually walk. The man is named Goldberg, an American. Pia Kirchhoff is afraid it might get complicated."
"Goldberg," Cosima said with a frown. "I've heard that name recently, but I can't remember where."
"Apparently he's some big shot." Oliver decided on a tie with a blue pattern and slipped on a jacket.
"Oh yes, now I remember," said Cosima. "It was Mrs. Schönermark at the flower shop. Her husband delivers fresh flowers to Goldberg every other day. Six months ago, he moved here for good. Before that, he stayed at the house only occasionally, whenever he was visiting Germany. She said she'd heard he was once an adviser to President Reagan."
"Then he must have been an elderly man." Oliver leaned over and kissed his wife on the cheek. In his mind, he was already imagining what awaited him. Every time he was called to some location where a body had been found, this mixture of heart -pounding anxiety and trepidation came over him. It disappeared only after he had seen the body.
"Yes, he was pretty old." Cosima sipped absentmindedly at her chocolate, now lukewarm. "But there was something else...."
* * *
Besides himself and the priest with his two sleepy altar boys, the only people who had showed up for Mass at St. Leonhard were a few old ladies, driven so early to church either by fear of the approaching end or the prospect of another desolate, lonely day. They sat scattered throughout the front third of the nave on the hard wooden pews and listened to the droning voice of the priest, who occasionally stifled a surreptitious yawn. Marcus Nowak knelt in the last row, staring blankly into space. The accident had led him to this church in the middle of Frankfurt. No one knew him here, and he had secretly hoped that the comforting ritual of the holy Mass would restore his spiritual equilibrium, but it had not. Quite the opposite. How could he have expected it to, when he hadn't been to church in years? He imagined that everyone could see what he'd done the night before. It wasn't one of those sins that could be absolved in the confessional or atoned for by saying ten Our Fathers. He wasn't worthy to sit here hoping for God's forgiveness, because his repentance was not genuine. The blood rose to his face and he closed his eyes when he thought about how much he had enjoyed it, how much of a rush it had given him, how happy it had made him. He could still see the man's face before him, the way he had looked at him, and finally had knelt down before him. My God. How could he have done that? He rested his forehead on his folded hands and felt a tear run down his unshaven cheek as he realized the full implication. His life would never be the same again. He bit his lip, opened his eyes, and looked at his hands with a trace of repugnance. He couldn't wash away this guilt in a thousand years. But the worst thing was, he would do it again as soon as a suitable opportunity presented itself. If his wife, his children, or his parents ever found out, they would never forgive him. He heaved such an abysmally deep sigh that two of the old ladies in the front rows turned around to look at him. He hurried to lower his head again and cursed his faith, which made him a captive of his acquired moral standards. But no matter how he twisted and turned it, there was no excuse as long as he did not sincerely repent of his action. Without repentance, there was no atonement, no forgiveness.
* * *
The old man was on his knees on the mirrorlike marble floor in the entry hall of the house, barely ten feet from the front door. His upper body was slumped forward and to the left, his head lying in a pool of blood. Bodenstein didn't want to imagine how his face looked, or what was left of it. The fatal bullet had entered the back of his head, and the small dark hole seemed remarkably inconspicuous. The exit of the bullet, however, had caused considerable damage. Blood and brain matter were sprayed all over the room, sticking to the subtle pattern of the silk wallpaper, to the door frame, the paintings, and the big Venetian mirror next to the front door.
"Hello, boss." Pia Kirchhoff stepped out of the doorway at the end of the entry hall. She had been a member of the K-11 team at the Regional Criminal Police in Hofheim for about two years. Although she was usually a real morning person, today she looked as if she'd overslept.
Bodenstein had a hunch why, but he stifled a remark and nodded to her.
Their colleagues from the evidence team arrived, took one look at the body from the front door, and stepped outside to put on white disposable overalls and booties.
"Superintendent!" called one of the men, and Bodenstein turned to the door.
"There's a cell phone lying here." With his gloved right hand, the officer fished out a phone from the flower bed next to the front door.
"Bag it," said Bodenstein. "Maybe we'll get lucky and it belongs to the perp."
He turned around. A sunbeam coming in the doorway struck the big mirror and lit it up for a moment. Bodenstein stopped short.
"Did you see this?" he asked his colleague.
"What is it?" Pia Kirchhoff came closer. She had plaited her blond hair into two braids and wasn't even wearing eye makeup, a sure sign that she'd been in a hurry this morning. Bodenstein pointed to the mirror. In the middle of the blood spatter, a number had been scrawled. Pia squinted and scrutinized the five figures.
"One one six four five. What could that mean?"
"I don't have the foggiest idea," Bodenstein admitted, tiptoeing past the corpse so as not to disturb any evidence. He didn't go into the kitchen right away, but he looked into the rooms off the entry hall and the foyer. The house was a bungalow, but bigger than it looked from the outside. The decor was old-fashioned — heavy furniture in the late-nineteenth-century style, walnut and oak, with carved details. In the living room, there were faded Persian area rugs on top of the beige carpet.
"He must have had a visitor." Pia pointed to the coffee table in front of the couch. Two wineglasses and a bottle of red wine stood on the marble surface, and next to them was a small white porcelain dish containing olive pits. "The front door wasn't damaged, and from the first cursory examination, there were no signs of a break-in. Maybe he offered his murderer something to drink."
Bodenstein went over to the low coffee table, bent down, and squinted to read the label on the wine bottle.
"Unbelievable." He reached for the bottle but remembered just in time that he wasn't wearing gloves.
"What is it?" asked Pia Kirchhoff. Bodenstein straightened up.
"It's a 1993 Château Pétrus," he replied with a reverent look at the unprepossessing green bottle, so sought after in the world of wine, with the red type in the middle of the label. "This one bottle costs about as much as a small car."
Bodenstein didn't know whether his colleague was referring to the crazy people who would pay that much money for a bottle of wine or to the fact that the murder victim, shortly before his death — and perhaps in the company of his murderer — had partaken of such a noble vintage.
"What do we know about the deceased?" he asked after determining that the bottle was only half-empty. He felt genuine regret at the thought that the rest would have to be poured down the drain before the bottle was sent to the lab.
"Goldberg had been living here since last October," said Pia. "He was born in Germany, but he spent over sixty years in the United States, and he must have been quite an important man there. The housekeeper thinks his family was very well-to-do."
"Did he live alone? He was pretty old, after all."
"Ninety-two. But quite physically active. The housekeeper has an apartment in the basement. She has two nights off, on the Sabbath and another evening of her choosing."
"Goldberg was Jewish?" Bodenstein glanced around the living room until he caught sight of a bronze seven-armed candelabra on a sideboard. The candles in the menorah had not yet been lit. They went into the kitchen. In contrast to the rest of the house, it was bright and modern.
"This is Eva Ströbel," Pia said, introducing her boss to the woman sitting at the kitchen table, who now stood up. "Mr. Goldberg's housekeeper."
She was tall, and despite her flat shoes, she hardly had to raise her head to look Bodenstein right in the eye. He extended his hand and scrutinized the woman's pale face. Her shock was clearly visible. Eva Ströbel told them that she had been hired seven months ago by Sal Goldberg, the victim's son, to be his father's housekeeper. Since then, she had lived in the basement apartment and taken care of the old gentleman and the household. Goldberg had still been very independent, mentally alert, and extremely disciplined. He set great store by a regular daily routine and three meals a day, and he hardly ever left the house. Her relationship with Goldberg had been formal but good.
"Did he have frequent visitors?" Pia asked.
"Only occasionally," Eva Ströbel replied. "Once a month, his son comes from America and stays for two or three days. He also had friends come to visit now and then, but mostly in the evenings. I can't tell you any of their names, because he never introduced me to his guests."
"Was he expecting a visitor last night, as well? On the table in the living room, there are two glasses and a bottle of red wine."
"Then somebody must have been here," said the housekeeper. "I didn't buy any wine, and there's none in the house."
"Could you tell if anything was missing?"
"I haven't checked yet. When I came in and ... and saw Mr. Goldberg lying there, I called the police and waited by the front door." She made a vague motion with her hand. "I mean, there was blood all over the place. It was obvious that there was nothing I could do to help him."
"You did precisely the right thing." Bodenstein gave her a kindly smile. "Don't worry about it. What time did you leave the house last night?"
"Around eight. I fixed dinner for him and set out his pills."
"And what time did you return?" Pia asked.
"This morning just before seven. Mr. Goldberg appreciated punctuality."
Bodenstein nodded. Then he remembered the numbers on the mirror.
"Does the number one one six four five mean anything to you?" he asked.
The housekeeper gave him a quizzical look and shook her head.
Bodenstein heard voices in the hall. He turned to the door and saw that Dr. Henning Kirchhoff had arrived. Kirchhoff was the acting head of the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Frankfurt and the ex-husband of his colleague Pia Kirchhoff. When he used to be with K-11 in Frankfurt, Bodenstein had enjoyed working with Henning Kirchhoff. The man was an eminent authority in his field, a brilliant scientist with a professional work ethic bordering on obsession, in addition to being one of the few specialists in Germany in the field of forensic anthropology. If it came to light that Goldberg had at one time been an important personage, public and political interest would put considerably more pressure on K-11. So much the better that a noted specialist like Kirchhoff would be doing the postmortem examination and autopsy. Because Bodenstein would rely on the autopsy, no matter how obvious the cause of death might seem.
Bodenstein heard Pia's voice behind him. "Hello, Henning. Thanks for agreeing to come."
"Your wish is my command." Kirchhoff squatted down next to Goldberg's body and examined it closely. "So the old guy survived the war and Auschwitz, only to be executed in his own house. Unbelievable."
"Did you know him?" Pia seemed surprised.
"Not personally." Kirchhoff looked up. "But he was highly regarded in Frankfurt, and not only in the Jewish community. If I remember correctly, he was an important man in Washington and an adviser to the White House for decades, as well as being a member of the National Security Council. He was involved in the defense industry. He also did a great deal for the reconciliation between Germany and Israel."
Bodenstein heard Pia ask skeptically, "How do you know that? Did you do a quick Google search on him so you could impress us?"
Kirchhoff got up and gave her an offended look.
"No. I read it somewhere and filed it away."
Pia accepted that. Her ex-husband had a photographic memory and his IQ was far above average. In interpersonal relationships, however, he possessed some striking flaws; he was both a cynic and a misanthrope.
The ME stepped aside so that the officer from the evidence team could shoot the necessary photos of the crime scene. Pia directed his attention to the numbers on the mirror.
"Hmm." Kirchhoff inspected the five numbers up close.
"What could that possibly mean?" Pia asked. "The killer must have written them, don't you think?"
Excerpted from The Ice Queen by Nele Neuhaus, Steven T. Murray. Copyright © 2009 Nele Neuhaus. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Saturday, April 28,
Sunday, April 29,
Monday, April 30,
Tuesday, May 1,
Wednesday, May 2,
Thursday, May 3,
Friday, May 4,
Saturday, May 5,
Sunday, May 6,
Monday, May 7,
Tuesday, May 8,
Wednesday, May 9,
Thursday, May 10,
Friday, May 11,
Also by Nele Neuhaus,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love her stories. Keeps me guessing.
But then it picked up. However, I did have a little trouble keeping track of all the different characters names in the beginning. It seemed like it was going to fizzle out towards the end, but came back around and was very satisfactory read.
A must read.
All i see is elsa wrote all over it..... ANT I RIGHT !!!!!!!!!