Penelope and her boyfriend Bjorn are joined at the last minute on their boating trip by Penelope's sister 'Viola'. Viola is murdered and Penelope and her boyfriend are on the run. Meanwhile, an important government official has apparently committed suicide. These two seemingly unrelated incidents start off the husband-wife team 'Lars Kepler's' 'The Nightmare', their follow up to their hugely successful debut novel 'The Hypnotist'.
Like in their first novel, the duo are quite successful in the initial stages of the novel, in creating an atmosphere that reeks of evil and portending of more terrible things to come. Detective Joona gets involved in both the cases and as he investigates links come up between the two, hinting of involvement of people at very high levels. There is also a bit of 'open suspense' in that, the reader knows what happened/is happening to Penelope whereas the police doesn't know it adding a bit more tension to the reader, as he internally wills on Joona to take the correct path. The first part of the novel is the best part as we initially get hit by the full force of evil, regain our bearings and wait for what will happen next as Joona proceeds with his investigation.
The best of Scandinavian crime fiction/police procedural has always been characterized by a strong sense of geographic atmosphere and of time and place where the events take place. There could be multiple murders occurring, but one would not get the feeling that these are being staged hurriedly by the author just to get a rise out of the reader. One can sense shift in the genre from police procedural to a more (mainstream) 'American' thriller kind of works in Jo Nesbo's novels. Lars Kepler, too seem to be following on this route judging from the first 2 books, but with far less control over. Incidents take at seemingly break neck speed, but the reader is left thinking as to how much more suspension of disbelief is required from him. Though it slagged off a bit, 'The Hypnotist' managed the tightrope walk between being a procedural as well as a thriller at the same time, quite well. Though one was left with the feeling, that more depth could have been possible, whatever emotional core was in the novel did create quite a bit of impact, which salvaged the novel overall. But here, the best features of crime fiction (sense of time, place, characters, emotional investment into them) seem to be sacrificed at the altar of thrill. For instance, the main antagonist of the novel is a kind of modern day 'Mephistopheles' who could have been an unforgettable character, but ends being a caricature. There are throwaway lines that hint at his past, his relationship with his son is briefly shown but none of them are dwelt into deeply enough for us to see the protagonist even as a human being, let one as 'Mephistopheles'. Towards the end of the novel, it devolves from a thriller to some kind of action packed novel with raids etc testing our patience.
We get to learn a bit more of Joona in this novel, his commitment phobia (really, is there any other kind of cop, other than Ake Edwardson's Erik Winters who seems to a rare exception), hints of a troubled past and there is even a hint of the supernatural at the end. This emotional involvement with Joona, the prospect to learning more about him, and the fact that Lars Kepler (have so far at-least) invariably do a great job in staging the set up of the novel, makes one look forward to the other books in the series, though this one is not a worthy sophomore effort.