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THE HYPNOTIST


By Lars Kepler
Translated from the Swedish by Ann Long

Picador, December, 2011 ($16.00 US)
ISBN-13: ISBN: 978-1-250-00758-2
Trade Paper
Kindle eBook: $9.99

Reviewed by Larry Jung
(February, 2012)

THE HYPNOTIST made the Swedish bestseller lists on its publication. The first edition was sold out in the first few weeks. It was rumored that the author Lars Kepler was paid roughly 1.4 million US dollars. But no one knew anything about Lars Kepler. At first he refused all interviews. Soon it was revealed that Lars Kepler is the pen name of Alexandra and Alexandar Coelho Ahndoril. Their success with THE HYPNOTIST and their second book THE NIGHTMARE, which also made it to the top of the Swedish bestseller list, has established Lars Kepler with the other Swedish crime writers who are making bestsellers lists in the U.S.

THE HYPNOTIST is the first book in a series featuring Detective Inspector Joona Linna. But the story is about Erik Maria Bark. He is called out of bed by Detective Inspector Joona Linna to get information from a boy who was the only survivor of a viscous knife attack that murdered his little sister, mother, and father. His body was covered in hundreds of stab and cut wounds. The boy Josef was barely alive when found and rushed to the hospital. As the only living witness, Josef can describe his attacker. But the boy is in so much trauma, he is not awake enough to be questioned. Joona discovers that there is an older sister not living at home. In a desperate measure to save the older sister, Joona calls Erik Maria Bark to hypnotize the boy Josef. The risks are high both for the boy and for Erik. The boy could die from the strain of the session. Erik must break a solemn promise to himself never to use hypnosis again in order to save the older sister. It was because of his success and fame using hypnosis as therapy that Joona called Erik. But hypnosis was also directly ruined Erik's professional and family life. To cope, Erik has become addicted to painkillers and mood modifying drugs. His wife Simone no longer loves him. Only for the sake their boy Benjamin is the family still living together. Erik breaks his promise to save a life, but in doing so has triggered unresolved issues that will put his family in mortal danger.

After the first quarter of the book, the story is about Erik Maria Bark and his family tragedy. The police investigation about the mass murders of Josef's family and the attempt to save Josef's older sister from being killed fades into the background. As the plot unfolds we learn about the brutal price abused trust and perverted love can have on families from all walks of life. Even a professional therapist like Erik Maria Bark is not immune. Erik is not just helping the police to solve several murders and a kidnapping, but he is searching for the means to heal himself and, in turn, heal his family. The husband and wife writing team of Lars Kepler have made understandable the emotional distress between Erik and his wife Simone that drives them apart. The reader has empathy for both Erick and Simone as their marriage spirals down to its seemingly inevitable crash. The third victim of all this is their young son Benjamin.

The style is graphic in violence and in sexual matters, but not gratuitous. This is a book about victims becoming perpetrators, and perpetrators becoming victims. In the sociological idea of penal couple, the victim bears some "functional responsibility" for the crime by providing the opportunity for the criminal to do the crime. Erik gradually realizes his part in this cycle.

THE HYPNOTIST is a long book at 503 pages. For the most part, the story moves along, though there is a lengthy section going back into Erik's past. It is here the significance of what is happening to Erik is explained. The author plays fair planting red herrings. Some of the latter plot twists are close to being melodramatic. But, on the whole, the book is a good read for those who like the TV shows Wire in the Blood and Criminal Minds.

THE HYPNOTIST is currently in production as a film by acclaimed Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom.

THE NIGHTMARE, Lars Kepler's second Detective Inspector Joona Linna investigation is scheduled to be published in May, 2012 in the US.

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