The Hypnotist, By Lars Kepler

Entranced by a genuine chiller

Barry Forshaw
Sunday 23 October 2011 08:15

There were those who felt that the writer "Lars Kepler" was notably overhyped in Sweden ahead of this debut crime-fiction novel. The concealing pseudonym became a major news story. Just who was the mysterious Kepler? After the publication of The Hypnotist – which enjoyed acclaim and bestseller status in Sweden – local media inaugurated a frantic search for the enigmatic author. It was subsequently revealed that "he" was a husband-and-wife team, both hitherto literary authors, writing in tandem: Alexandra and Alexander Ahndoril. Unveiled and pressing the flesh in London, the two Alexes turned out to be a charming couple who admit that their "serious" careers have stalled since the Frankenstein's monster that is Mr Kepler entered their lives.

The sobriquet "the next Stieg Larsson" is again being thrown about in connection with Lars Kepler. But can Lars cut the mustard? Just a few pages of The Hypnotist (in Ann Long's translation) quickly puts paid to the accusation of hype; this is commanding, and deeply scarifying stuff.

As in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, an entire family has been savagely murdered. The one surviving witness, the teenage son, has been traumatised, and cannot be asked about the killings. The strong-minded Detective Inspector Joona Linna persuades Erik Bark, a retired hypnotist, to enter the dark recesses of the boy Josef's damaged consciousness – and it soon becomes apparent that Josef played a markedly different role in the slaughter than originally believed. Soon, the reader is in very disturbing territory indeed.

The Hypnotist is set in Sweden, but the characters, the dilemmas and the unsettling murder case are universal. The book is essentially about the influence of family bonds, which carry both positive and destructive elements; this theme is provocatively explored, and there is a kinetic, filmic quality to the book, perhaps springing from the fact that the duo's inspiration is actually film rather than the written word.

The Hypnotist attempts to transfer a cinematic tempo to the novel form, utilising the filmic present tense and injecting a visually-oriented dynamic into every scene. These techniques are used to deepen the reader's relationship with the headstrong Joona Linna. Far from showing signs of exhaustion, the Scandinavian bandwagon seems to be building up a new head of steam.

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