Author Interview: Lars Kepler
THE SANDMAN (Knopf; 3/6/18)
I’m absolutely thrilled to share today’s interview with CBTB readers! Lars Kepler is the author behind the internationally-bestselling Joona Linna series - and this week, their brilliant thriller THE SANDMAN releases in the US. From the moment I first started reading THE SANDMAN (Knopf; 3/6/18) in the fall of 2017, I knew it would be a strong contender for my favorite read of 2018… and I stand by that first impression! THE SANDMAN is about as close to a perfect crime novel as it gets: it’s a propulsive, page-turning read with an almost mythic serial killer at its core. Bonus: it’s set against a Scandinavian backdrop, which CBTB readers know is my sweet spot! It’s rare for me to recommend a book without any qualifiers, but I can wholeheartedly recommend THE SANDMAN—I’m confident you will love this book.
THE SANDMAN is part of Kepler’s Joona Linna series, but don’t worry: it absolutely can be read as a standalone. (That's how I read it!) And if you love this book as much as I’m predicting you will, there’s even more great news: Knopf is re-translating and re-releasing the earlier books in the series later in 2018! I would highly recommend waiting for the release of these US editions - I’ve personally tried the original translation of THE HYPNOTIST (Book 1) that was released in the US a few years ago, and it just didn't click for me the way these new translations have. These new translations are really exceptional - they make all the difference in appreciating the brilliance of Kepler’s work.
One note: In the time between reading and reviewing THE SANDMAN, setting up this interview, and the date of this post, I’ve actually joined the team at Knopf - I’m over-the-moon happy to get to work with these incredible authors as part of my job now!
About THE SANDMAN
“Sensational ... like meeting Hannibal Lecter all over again - twice.” —Lee Child
Late one night, outside Stockholm, Mikael Kohler-Frost is found wandering. Thirteen years earlier, he went missing along with his younger sister. They were long thought to have been victims of Sweden's most notorious serial killer, Jurek Walter, now serving a life sentence in a maximum security psychiatric hospital. Now Mikael tells the police that his sister is still alive and being held by someone he knows only as the Sandman. Years ago, Detective Inspector Joona Linna made an excruciating personal sacrifice to ensure Jurek's capture. He is keenly aware of what this killer is capable of, and now he is certain that Jurek has an accomplice. He knows that any chance of rescuing Mikael's sister depends on getting Jurek to talk, and that the only agent capable of this is Inspector Saga Bauer, a twenty-seven-year-old prodigy. She will have to go under deep cover in the psychiatric ward where Jurek is imprisoned, and she will have to find a way to get to the psychopath before it's too late--and before he gets inside her head.
About Lars Kepler
LARS KEPLER is the pseudonym of the critically acclaimed husband and wife team Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril and Alexander Ahndoril. Their internationally best-selling Joona Linna series has sold more than ten million copies in forty languages. The Ahndorils were both established writers before they adopted the pen name Lars Kepler, and have each published several acclaimed novels. They live in Stockholm, Sweden. Translated by Neil Smith.
Author Interview: Lars Kepler
Crime by the Book: First things first: thank you so much for joining me to chat about THE SANDMAN! I’m such a fan of your book - it’s already a strong contender for my favorite read of 2018. For readers who are totally unfamiliar with THE SANDMAN, how would you describe this book?
Lars Kepler: Thank you, it’s our pleasure. We are so happy that you enjoyed our book! Crime by the Book is a fantastic blog!
The Sandman starts when a young and confused man is found on a railway bridge by the police. They take him to the hospital. And when they run him through the system they find out that he was declared dead years ago. The serial killer, Jurek Walter, who now serves a life sentence in solitary confinement, took him and his sister ten years earlier. The young man tells the police that his sister is still alive, but he has no idea where she is. The National Operations Department decides to send in special agent Saga Bauer on an undercover mission, posing as a patient in the same ward as the serial killer Jurek Walter. Her mission is to earn the trust of the serial killer and get him to reveal where his accomplice is holding the girl captive, while criminal investigator Joona Linna, who once upon a time arrested Jurek Walter, continues the search on the outside.
CBTB: THE SANDMAN is an installment in your Nordic crime series featuring Detective Inspector Joona Linna. How would you describe Joona to readers who have never “met” him before?
LK: Joona (which is the Finnish spelling of the name “Jonah” from the Old Testament) is our male main character. He is a highly skilled criminal investigator at the National Operations Department. His personal life took a terrible turn many years ago. The only thing that still makes sense to him is police work. He is an absolutely passionate homicide investigator.
CBTB: Along with Joona Linna, THE SANDMAN also features a strong and complex female character named Saga Bauer. Saga is an absolutely fantastic character - she was a highlight of the book for me! What are the elements of Saga’s character that interest you the most? What do you hope readers love about her?
LK: We’re so happy you enjoyed the character of Saga. She is our female main character and she works at the Swedish Security Service as a superintendent. She's tough and very smart, but has a kind of explosive temperament. Saga has always fled her past because of her mother, who was ill and psychologically unstable. Saga has locked away her own darkness inside, but she doesn’t know how long she will be able keep it there.
CBTB: One of the biggest questions readers have asked me about THE SANDMAN is: “can it be read as a standalone?” What would you say to this? Is it okay to read THE SANDMAN if you’ve never read another Joona Linna book?
LK: Absolutely, all of our books are stand-alone and can be read separately. In every book there’s a new case, new characters involved, a new resolution, but within the same universe and involving the same investigators. But if one reads several books, it becomes apparent that they are related and form an epic story about Joona and Saga.
CBTB: THE SANDMAN is an incredibly dark and gripping thriller that features a number of twisted and shocking crimes. Are there real-life inspirations behind this story, or is it purely drawn from your imagination?
LK: We conducted an enormous amount of research about real serial killers—talked to doctors, psychiatrists, caregivers, criminologists, and police officers. The serial killers who we found the most interesting were the ones who came across as very intelligent. We then searched deep within our own fears and let Jurek Walter take shape. He was so frightening that he infiltrated our thoughts and we couldn’t stop thinking about him, even long after we had stopped writing.
CBTB: In THE SANDMAN, Saga must go undercover to befriend and earn the trust of Jurek Walter, a vicious serial killer. A significant amount of this book takes place in the psychiatric ward where Jurek is being held for treatment. Did you do any research to get a better understanding of how psychiatric wards function? If so, did you learn anything particularly interesting in your research?
LK: Research is very important to us and we always conduct it together. We visit crime scenes, prisons, read forensic reports, and talk to doctors and police officers. Authenticity means very much to us.
We visited several psychiatric units until we found the place which we describe in the book. It’s like a high-security prison, but where all the inmates are heavily medicated and where the doctors have an unsound amount of power, as if they have their own underground kingdom.
CBTB: Readers who are new to your work might not know that the name Lars Kepler is actually a pseudonym for a writing duo! How does your writing process work? (For example, do you write together, or does one of you write first and then the other edits?)
LK: We understand if it might seem a bit odd, but for us it was necessary to create a whole new writer in order to be able to write together. We’re married, have three daughters, and write everything together. We share everything from the first idea to the last sentence. This might not seem appealing to everyone, but for us is absolutely fantastic. We sit next to each other writing separate scenes on separate computers. After a while, we email the text to each other, begin writing where the other one left off, re-write the text and then email it back. When we no longer know who has written what – that’s when we say that Lars Kepler has taken over.
CBTB: When you’re not writing crime fiction, do you also read crime fiction? If so, could you share with us a few recent crime novels you have read and enjoyed?
LK: We read a lot of crime fiction, and since there’s so many good books and so many fantastic writers, it’s always difficult to choose only one novel or writer. We recently read Karin Slaughter’s “The Good Daughter” and Lee Child’s “Personal” and really liked both.
CBTB: What are you working on next?
LK: We are in the final stages of our upcoming book about Joona Linna and Saga Bauer.
Thank you so much to Lars Kepler for taking the time to answer my questions so thoughtfully! THE SANDMAN is on sale from Knopf on March 6th, 2018.
Lars Kepler US Book Tour
If you’re in the US, make sure to check out Lars Kepler’s upcoming tour schedule for THE SANDMAN!
Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Knopf; Reprint edition (March 6, 2018)
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