Monday, July 11, 2011

The Hypnotist, or: Swedish Chef Solves a Mystery.

(Disclaimer: I go through this entire review without mentioning Stieg Larsson. I also don't use the phrases "the next Nordic hit" or "Scandinavian crime fiction".)

The Hypnotist - Lars Kepler - 512 pages

I really want to move to Sweden; you never have to call the police. Someone broke into my house while I was asleep? Don't call the police. The killer is calling me from the hospital where he's under police custody? Best to ignore that. This guy is suspected of killing his entire family? No need to cuff him to the hospital bed.

Of course, the police detectives aren't much either. The lead detective Joona Linna comes off as smart and cocky. But he's Sweden's best police detective so that's understandable. Never mind that he has clues right in front of him that he completely misses*.

But that's alright. Because we've got the world famous Erik Maria Bark to come use hypnosis on the primary suspect. Never mind that his reputation is cloaked in scandal. Never mind that he swore off hypnotism for some odd reason (most of the reviews tell you why--I'm not going to mention it). Never mind that the hypnotist is so pilled out of his mind that he makes Doctor House look like a normal user.

Then we have the drama. This isn't TNT "We Know Drama" drama. The drama between Dr. Bark and his wife Simone; these two are getting ready to separate and every conversation they have is an argument. Making their parts of the novel tedious to read at best. Even after their son Benjamin goes missing they continue to fight with one another. Eventually I realized that they had both morphed into the Swedish Chef from The Muppets in my head:

Erik: Pleese-a dun't leefe-a me-a.
Simone: I hete-a yuoo!
Erik: Hefe-a yuoo seee my peells?
Simone: Hefe-a yuoo seee my sun?

Now let's turn our sights on the drama within the Ek household. You find out Josef Ek is the killer of his own family right off the bat. It's clear something strange has been going on in the Ek household. But no one in the family ever reported that their 15-year-old relative is a sociopath who tries to rape his sister on several occasions. Makes sense not to report that or get the kid some help, right?

The pacing of the novel was a tad awkward as well. Jumping back and forth between various characters during various times of the day; I kept having to take mental notes as to what was happening and when it was happening. It turned what I thought was an easy summer read into an effort.

Then we have that old episode of Penn & Teller: Bullshit! that I watched many years ago. Hypnosis? That's bullshit. That episode has always stuck with me and it didn't help here.

I could not figure out why this novel is on so many summer reading lists. I could not figure out why it has so many positive reviews on I was completely baffled. But like a bad Swedish detective I eventually put it all together. Most of the reviews (that I didn't read) mention some information that you don't find out until page 400 of the novel. Had I known then what I know now? I still wouldn't of liked it. Dr. Bark's motives and Joona's motives would've been clearer, though.

Add all these flaws together and that's why I really didn't enjoy Kepler's book**.

This book is rated IKEA because I just couldn't put it all together.

*Joona visits the killer in the hospital. He notices the killer's dirty feet and wonders what it all means. The killer isn't able to walk! But his bare feet are dirty? It takes him about ten pages before he realizes that the killer can walk and has been outside and has been calling and threatening Dr. Bark. Obviously the killer lied about how much pain he was in. What kind of a guy kills his ENTIRE family and then lies to the police after all?
**Lars Kepler is not a real person. It is the pen name for a married couple: Alexander Ahndoril and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril.


  1. The name Lars Kepler is a pseudonym for a Swedish couple. Although written by two people there is no choppiness to the book and it reads as if there was a single author. Ann Long does an excellent job in translating the book. Readers will enjoy this first book by Lars Kepler and look forward to the second, which has appeared in Sweden, and should be published shortly in English translation.


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