Monday, May 30, 2011
Mystery Monday - More Scandinavian Thrillers? Yes, please.
THE HYPNOTIST by Lars Kepler: America has clearly not had enough of the Scandinavian thriller, and THE HYPNOTIST (to be published here in July) is at the top of the genre. It took me barely a day and a half to breeze through this 500+-page novel, because I simply couldn't put it down. Despite sometimes heavy-handed foreshadowing that brought the tone a bit too far into melodramatic territory, the twists and turns of the plot, the deepening understanding of the characters, are gripping enough to keep the pages flying. The novel begins as Detective Joona Linna, in desperation, calls in ex-hypnotist Erik Maria Bark to delve into the mind of the sole survivor of a brutal mass murder in order to save the last potential victim. Bark has given up hypnosis for reasons that are dribbled out throughout the novel for maximum dramatic effect. I felt this was a bit overdone, but had no trouble letting it go. The novel has very short chapters and multiple points of view, making for a choppy ride at the outset, but it's not many pages before it becomes cohesive in the reader's mind. What Bark finds out in the damaged mind of young Josef changes the course of the investigation. Meanwhile, Bark's past comes back to haunt him in a very real way, through the disappearance of his son, Benjamin. The minutes are ticking by to the next dose of the medication Benjamin must have to stay alive (if this sounds overdramatic, well, it is, but it's easily forgiven). Comparisons to Stieg Larsson are inevitable, but this is not THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Instead it's a well-researched chiller with echoes of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. It's dark. I think that's the appeal of Scandinavian thrillers; they resist the cozification or politicization that has infused American thriller/mystery. Insular cultures, remote locations, snow, ice, and long, dark winter days make a strong backdrop for twisting psychological suspense.
I did think the novel was a bit long, but it still moves quickly. I can think of a couple of subplots that could have been chucked out to streamline the book, but this is a minor quibble. If it weren't so heavy, I'd speculate that it would be the beach read of 2011 in the U.S. - although I suppose that's what e-readers are for.
Source disclosure: I received an Advance Reader's Copy from Farrar, Straus and Giroux through Shelf Awareness.