THE HYPNOTIST by Lars Kepler
Vintage Crime/Black Lizard (Reprint); 7/31/18
CBTB Rating: 4.5/5
The Verdict: superb new edition of a gripping Nordic thriller
Some reviews deserve a little backstory—and this is one of them. Years before starting Crime by the Book, I tried reading the original English translation of Lars Kepler’s THE HYPNOTIST… and unfortunately, I wasn’t able to finish it. Fast forward to late 2017 when I received a galley of Kepler’s THE SANDMAN and discovered just what an enormous difference a translator and editor can make. I absolutely loved THE SANDMAN, and ever since have been itching to dig in to the re-translated, re-edited editions of Kepler’s backlist that are slated to release from Vintage Crime/Black Lizard in 2018. Book one in husband-and-wife duo Lars Kepler's series, THE HYPNOTIST introduces readers to Joona Linna, the complex, dedicated detective who takes center stage in Kepler's bestselling books. Readers will find THE HYPNOTIST a supremely accessible addition to their Nordic Noir library; where Scandinavian crime novels tend to feature layered, brooding plots, Kepler balances that complexity of plotting with genuinely page-turning pacing - and the result is a gripping thriller you’ll want to devour in just a couple sittings. While THE SANDMAN is (thus far!) my favorite Kepler novel I’ve read, this new edition of THE HYPNOTIST is a fantastic addition to your summer reading list, and a welcome reminder of just what a difference a top-notch translator (and editor, for that matter!) can make for those of us who love reading translated crime fiction.
A gruesome triple homicide attracts the interest of Detective Joona Linna of the National Crime Police. There's only one surviving witness--the boy whose family was killed before his eyes. The only problem is, he's lapsed into a catatonic state.
Desperate for information, Linna enlists trauma expert Dr. Erik Maria Bark, hoping to hypnotize the boy and uncover the secrets locked in his memory. But, scarred by past experiences, Bark has sworn never to use hypnosis again. When the doctor breaks his promise, he triggers a terrifying chain of events that will put all their lives in jeopardy.
There’s nothing better than a mystery that you’ll want to fully immerse yourself in. When I’m in the mood for this kind of read, I always turn to Scandinavian crime. Scandinavian crime novels are known for featuring layered, complex plots - and Lars Kepler is no exception. THE HYPNOTIST begins with a dark and twisted scene: a family is found brutally murdered. The only survivor? The boy whose family was gruesomely killed. What begins as a simple “whodunnit” quickly transforms into something even more compelling. When the surviving boy is put under hypnosis to unlock his memories of that traumatic night, the revelations he shares with Detective Joona Linna change everything. Through the dark secrets Joona and his team learn, readers are drawn into a family with dark and disturbing secrets - and into the mind of a terrifying villain, too. Speaking of villains, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Lars Kepler so far, it’s that they have a serious knack for writing creepy antagonists. In THE SANDMAN, readers met Jurek Walter: a psychopath of almost mythic proportions. In THE HYPNOTIST, the story’s villain is a bit more subtle - but no less creepy. I absolutely love the way Kepler crafts their characters; even the characters who on the surface appear to be quite “normal” tend to have a dark edge to them. And the perpetrator(s) of the stories’ crimes? They’re downright terrifying.
If you haven’t yet read any of Kepler’s books, THE HYPNOTIST will make for an obvious - and excellent - place to start. If on the other hand you, like me, first explored Kepler’s work with THE SANDMAN, you’ll find it an effortless transition to backpedal and begin the Detective Joona Linna series from the beginning. In fact, I actually found there to be a benefit to having already read THE SANDMAN before diving into THE HYPNOTIST. Unlike THE SANDMAN, which heavily features the series’ protagonist, Joona, THE HYPNOTIST splits its time between two leads. Readers meet Joona Linna, yes, but THE HYPNOTIST actually seemed to me a bit more focused on its titular character—the hypnotist himself, Dr. Erik Maria Bark. I found myself glad to have already "met" Joona in THE SANDMAN; Kepler provides deeper insights into Joona's backstory in THE SANDMAN than in THE HYPNOTIST. Though it’s Joona who brings Erik on board to help solve the story’s central case, THE HYPNOTIST quickly diverges from its procedural roots—and one of the story’s darkest and most compelling threads involves Erik and his personal life, rather than Joona and his policework. There’s a shroud of mystery surrounding Erik; we’re not sure exactly what has happened to him in the past, but we’re told that he had previously committed to never practicing hypnosis ever again… that is, until Joona convinces him to break his own rule. Now, I'll be the first to admit: Erik isn’t the most likable character - he has a certain arrogance to him that is likely to rub readers the wrong way - but Kepler provides more than enough compelling backstory to offset any frustrations with his personality. Rather than focusing on the pieces of his character that I didn't love, I found myself hooked on unraveling the secrets of his past. Some of the most chilling scenes in this book involve flashbacks to Erik’s time as a practicing hypnotist; Kepler uses immersive and engaging imagery to put readers in the passenger seat for these deep-dives into the subconscious of Erik’s former patients. And lest readers wonder exactly why Kepler spends so much time building up Erik’s world of hypnosis… all will be revealed in due time, and you’ll be totally along for the ride - and, if you’re anything like me, shocked by its outcome.
Ignore for a moment the undeniably-intriguing plot of THE HYPNOTIST—there’s so much to love about Kepler’s writing style here, too. Yes, this book is certainly layered and complex, but it’s also addictive and gripping. Kepler makes Nordic Noir accessible through short, impactful chapters and high-intensity action scenes. If you tend to prefer action thrillers over slow-burning police procedurals, you’re likely to find that Kepler’s books strike a perfect balance for you. It’s not often that an author manages to balance pacing and complexity of plot, but Kepler does it with ease. Newcomers to the Scandinavian crime genre are likely to find Kepler’s books a perfect entry point; seasoned readers of the genre will find their work a breath of fresh - and addictive - air. THE HYPNOTIST takes about 75 pages to kick in gear, which, frankly, makes sense considering the complexity of plot we’re talking about here. From what I’ve read of their work so far, Kepler seems to love crafting mysteries with many threads, red herrings, and potential suspects, and readers will need to go into THE HYPNOTIST willing to give the authors the first 75 or so pages of the book to lay the story's groundwork. But once that foundation is established, THE HYPNOTIST is a truly unputdownable read—and the deeper you get into this chilling mystery, the more you’ll find yourself gripped by its web of secrets. And all those plot threads I mentioned a moment ago? They tie together beautifully in this book’s cinematic finale.
There’s a reason Lars Kepler has seen such exceptional international success, and I’m thrilled that Vintage Crime/Black Lizard is issuing new editions of Kepler’s backlist for American readers this year. My experience reading this new edition of THE HYPNOTIST far surpassed my previous attempt to read the book’s original US edition, and has cemented me as a fan of Kepler’s addictive, hold-no-punches brand of crime writing. Pick this book up for a chilling, totally engrossing thriller this summer, and be on the lookout for books two and three in the Joona Linna series (THE NIGHTMARE and THE FIRE WITNESS) releasing this fall!
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions my own.
Paperback: 576 pages
Publisher: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard; Reprint edition (July 31, 2018)
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