A Joona Linna Mystery by Lars Kepler
Review: Swedish Detective Inspector Joona Linna investigates the brutal murders of a family — and other crimes — that have as their common link the titular character of The Hypnotist, the first mystery in this series by Lars Kepler. It was originally published in Sweden in 2009 as Hypnotisören.
Joona is faced with a killer, who has murdered and mutilated a couple and their young child, as well as left for dead another, teenaged Josef. A third child, away at college, is believed to be a target but she cannot be found. Josef is expected to live, but is unresponsive. Joona believes by hypnotizing Josef, he can get a lead to his family's killer. He asks noted physician Erik Maria Bark to perform the procedure, but he is reluctant to do so. Some event in the past has led him to give up the practice, but he eventually recognizes that it may help solve the crime and prevent another one. The result of his session with Josef shocks them all: the young boy seems to have been the killer all along. The authorities won't recognize anything said under hypnosis to be admissible in court, so Joona and his team must scramble to find physical evidence to link the crimes to Josef … before he can be released and potentially kill again.
There are so many problems with The Hypnotist that it's hard to know where to begin. If the authors — Lars Kepler is a pseudonym for married authors Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril and Alexander Ahndoril — had simply kept to the synopsis outlined above, the book could have been a compelling thriller. But so many subplots and tangential storylines are introduced that it quickly becomes an exercise in absurdity. Everyone is flawed in this book, and each and every one of their flaws has to be explored and explained. Presumably this is to disguise the fact that someone from Erik's past is finally catching up with him … but that is foreshadowed in the opening pages, so it certainly doesn't come as any surprise. It isn't until nearly 300 pages later, in a section subtitled "ten years ago", that an extended — 75 page — backstory finally explains what happened, and ends with Erik declaring, "I will never hypnotize anyone again."
The narrative itself is uneven and choppy, possibly due to the translation or more likely the dreadful use of first person present and the constant inclusion of every little detail in a scene. Consider this typical passage:
The day is bitterly cold, the sky open and blue. People are moving silently, lost in their own worlds. Tired children are on their way home from school. Kennet stops outside the 7-Eleven on the corner. There's a special on coffee and saffron Lucia bun. He goes inside, and as he joins the queue his cell phone rings. It's Simone.
Nordic crime novels are all the rage now, but The Hypnotist is a really poor example of such. At over 500 pages, it is far, far too long, and has little to hold one's interest to the end.
Acknowledgment: Picador Crime provided a trade paperback edition of The Hypnotist for this review.
Review Copyright © 2011 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in The Hypnotist: Sweden
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The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler — A Joona Linna Mystery
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Publication Date: June 2011
List Price: $27.00