Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Hypnotist - Lars Kepler

A policeman driven by his past to get at the root of every case he investigates, a psychiatrist  who is also tormented by an incident from his past, both their paths intersect in a case. So what's so path breaking about a person confronting his past in the very case that he investigates, it's a trope used quite frequently in crime fiction. So why do the blurbs go 'The next Stieg Larsson', 'more chilling than Shining, The silence of the lambs' etc. One can understand the need of publishers to sell their books at any cost, but blurbs that are contrary to the content of the book? Yes, having a reference 'Steig Larsson' would get more eye balls and  more chance of a person buying it,  but the only way that 'Lars Kepler' (pseudonym of the husband and wife team who have written this novel, which is the first is a series of novel set with Inspector  Joona Linna  as the primary character) can be compared to 'Stieg Larsson' is with the fame that both their first novels acquired.  Shouldn't there be at-least some common points of reference between two works (of-course other than both being in the genre of crime fiction) for them to be compared? But this kind of promotion is unavoidable and its up-to the reader to push them away before starting to read the book.

A family is decimated brutally by an unknown assailant with only the elder sister (who seems to be missing) and the son surviving the attack. Inspector 'Joona Linna' feels that the assailant would go after the elder sister too and asks psychiatrist 'Erik Maria Bark' to help him out by hypnotizing the son to get more information that would save her. Though Erik has a past with hypnotism he reluctantly agrees to do it, which sets off a train of events which traverse through two different plot lines, in which one triggers the other. 

The authors employ a visual style of story telling with short chapters ordered by the passage of time. In the early stages it does work, particularly when they go back and forth/parallel in time in the chapters, as we see one perspective of an event first and then another.  It does irritate in places, where incidents which are continuous over a period of time are split  necessarily into multiple chapters just to give the reader that something is happening at breakneck speed, when he would rather be more willing to soak up the information that is being given to him. A book that is the first in a series is not expected to dwell deep into the protagonist of the series,  but this novel reads more like an ensemble. There is of course, Erik who is an important part along with Linna, and parts of the story demand Linna's absence.  But there are also other characters who do investigations on their own, with Linna going missing at these points too. Suddenly you wonder, 'hey where has Linna gone, why are these guys hijacking his novel' . But I guess it is also because of our expectation that the main protagonist should be present most of the time.

There are moments that are genuinely scary, particularly the initial parts and the part about Erik's past, but they are not developed in detail.
The initial plot line and the sub-plot involving Erik's son and some bullies particularly had a great potential for a showcase of the evil in humans, but after a cursory mention of them, the authors start again on the next incident/twist to surprise us. But several of these twists seem implausible, not because one thinks that they cannot happen, but because the authors do not take much pains to justify them. More than the 'why'/'how', the 'who'/'what next' part is the one that drives the authors and to be fair to them they do a good job of it. They start off with one plot line, then another seems to start in parallel, then it seems like both are related, but then they finish one plot line and we find that yes both are related, but not in the manner that we/the characters thought.  There is another sub-plot involving Erik's family life, particularly his wife which is handled sensitively which deserves kudos, a lot is left unsaid here by the end, but it brings out well the dynamics of the relationship between the couple. 

Though the book is not bad at all, you end up feeling that it could have been much much better, if not for all the potential that were sacrificed at the altar of churning out a 'page turner'. They raise the tension to a high pitch, then just show a glimpse of the evil within all of us and then proceed immediately to bludgeon it before tackling the next evil. The result being that one is not as struck by the evil that the characters confront as one should ideally be, actually there is no time to think because the next evil has made its presence felt already. I would have actually liked it to slow down a bit now and then, take it's breath, contemplate and then proceed again. Forget the hype and you would get a fairly engaging read (which may seem even as a full throttle thrill ride which justify the blurbs, if you are willing overlook a few points. One can understand the reason for its huge success among the general audience). The authors writing style, choice of plots and Linna with his unassuming smugness (is this even a valid phrase?) have intrigued me and I would be looking out (though not too hard ) for their other works.


  1. I have this book sitting on my shelf and your review is enough to tempt me to put to the top of my pile. I hadn't realised it was a husband and wife writing team, not sure if that puts me off slightly but we shall see...

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    2. There is no discernble change in the tone of the novel though 2 persons have written it. Some parts though seem to have a female perspective.

      If you haven't read 'Alext' by Pierre Lemaitre, I would recommend it a bit more than
      'The Hypnotist'.