Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Hypnotist: Lars Kepler

I read this book for the European Reading Challenge because it is set in Tumba, Sweden. It had been on my shelf of books I might discard without reading, because of length and subject matter, but when I gave it the 50-page test, I just kept on reading all 503 pages. To my surprise, it also turned out to be set around Christmas time. (More about that later.)

The discovery of the body of a teacher, dead, stabbed and mutilated, in the locker room of the high school leads to an even more horrendous scene. Policemen go to his house to notify his family, only to find all of them slaughtered, stabbed and bloody. It turns out that one of the children, a teenage boy, is still alive, and he is rushed to the hospital. Later the police find out that there is an older daughter, and fear that the killer may be after her also.

Detective Inspector Joona Linna takes on the case and requests that the victim be hypnotized, in hopes that he will be able to tell them more about the crime and the criminal. Erik Maria Bark is called in, even though he was disgraced years ago when a patient study he was working on ended badly. Joona feels that Erik is the most qualified to have success with hypnosis in this case, where the young boy is badly injured and barely alive. The results of the experiment are surprising and devastating.

This book had a lot of issues for me. It is fragmented. It goes back and forth in time. The story is told in present tense. It is over 500 pages long. And the story is filled with very creepy villains. It follows two crimes, the multiple murder being investigated by the police, and a kidnapping that may or may not be related to the police investigation. The back story of one of the protagonists is followed in depth. Those aspects can be either good or bad, depending on the reader, but they can also make for a confusing book.

Yet I enjoyed reading the book. I liked both of the main protagonists, even though they are flawed and often irritating. In this book, Erik, a hypnotist whose career was ruined by poor choices, shares the limelight with Joona Linna, the policeman. Erik does not want to get involved with the case, and has promised his wife that he won't ever hypnotize anyone again. The second plot line, which is given a good deal of time, is about a threat to a member of his family.

I also liked a lot of the secondary characters in the book, and I got to know them well enough to care about them. That is one of the advantages of a long book. I really did not mind the narrative in present tense in this one. I stayed interested in the story throughout, even as it jumped around from one group of people to another.

Getting back to the Christmas element, this book takes place in the two weeks before Christmas, and ends on Christmas Eve. Clearly this is not a cozy Christmas tale, but the juxtaposition of the Christmas decorations and celebrations as a background to the investigation for a killer and a kidnapper is effective.

The bad guys in this story are really scary and creepy. From what I have read about the rest of this series, they are not the type of books I usually enjoy reading. So I am in a quandary about whether to continue the series, even though I enjoyed this one very much.

I would only recommend this story to readers who like thrillers and like Scandinavian mysteries, and can get  past the extreme amounts of violence. I found this an easy to read, engrossing book, but the reviews are divided.

I will also note that I read the translation of the book by Ann Long, published in 2011 by Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux. In 2018, there was a new edition by Vintage Crime, with a translation by Neil Smith. Some reviews say that the new translation is an improvement.


Publisher:   Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2011 (orig. publ. 2009)
Translator:  Ann Long
Length:       503 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Series:        Joona Linna, #1
Setting:       Tumba, Sweden
Genre:        Thriller
Source:       Purchased in November, 2012.


Margot Kinberg said...

It certainly doesn't sound like an easy read, Tracy, even if you felt that it was worth it. I honestly think I'd find it hard to get past the violence. But that said, there have been books I've read that were violent, but that had good characters and solid plots, too. And the Scandi setting sounds well done, for the next time I'm in the mood for Scandi.

John Grant said...

This sounds very interesting, Tracy, and I like the notion of the admixture of hypnotism with a police procedural. I see my library system has a copy of the new translation, so I've put in a hold.

Rick Robinson said...

Much of it doesn't sound too bad as a book I might read, but then "The story is told in present tense." stops me cold. I also don't like a lot of time jumping about, preferring a story to be told in straight forward fashion. The length I can handle if the book is sufficiently engaging. I'll probably give this one a miss.

TracyK said...

I kept reminding myself it wasn't my kind of book, Margot, but the story kept pulling me back in.

TracyK said...

I will be interested in your opinion on this one, John. I will be looking out for the 2nd in the series in the Vintage edition.

TracyK said...

For once the present tense didn't bother me much, Rick, but I sympathize. I do tend to avoid it. Although I read a whole trilogy in present tense once and did not even realize it until the last book.

Mathew Paust said...

Quite a departure from Black-Headed Pins, I must say! I like the idea of a "50-page test," Tracy, altho with Red Badge of Courage that would have taken me to within 20 pages of the end--and it was a sloooooow read all the way. Dunno about The Hypnotist. Maybe it's the time of year and other stuff going on that can turn the spirits downward. I'll keep it in mind, tho. You have rarely mislead fact, come to think of, I can't recall if you ever have!

TracyK said...

I enjoyed this book much more than I thought I would, Matt, and I don't like thrillers like this. But ... often it is the writing that determines my enjoyment more than the topic or story line.

col2910 said...

My son read and enjoyed this and passed it on to me. I ought to give it a go.

TracyK said...

You should, Col. After I got into it I wasn't bothered by the length although probably 50-100 pages less would have been better.