Book Review: THE HYPNOTIST by Lars Kepler

Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist is already a smash in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries since its release there in 2009. It hits our shores this week with strong buzz and that dreaded tag I refuse to use: the NSL. You know, the next author who’s like that guy who wrote the Lisbeth Salander novels. It’s a lazy shorthand that undermines an original and exciting novel that can stand perfectly well on its own merits, thanks very much.

The novel doesn’t bother with any plodding exposition; its very first line is “Like fire, just like fire,” as a boy—the sole survivor (barely) and witness to the slaughter of his family—describes under hypnosis what he saw. What he reveals is even more disturbing than the carnage left at the scene.

The session also opens a Pandora’s box for the hypnotist, Erik Maria Bark, who had sworn never to use hypnosis again after his practice led to tragic events ten years earlier. When news gets out that Bark had hypnotized the boy, Bark and his family are suddenly in grave danger. It’s up to Detective Joona Linna, who is always right, to protect the Barks and solve two gruesome cases that might be related.

Lars Kepler is actually a nom de plume for married couple Alexander and Alexandra Ahndoril, self-admitted movie lovers who have said they wanted to write a cinematic novel. They succeeded, constructing a hard R-rated story (for extreme violence) with nerve-racking scenes that make you squirm and want to cover your eyes. Yes, I actually yelled “Don’t go down there!” at my Nook. Read this scene in which a retired detective and his daughter—the hypnotist’s wife—are searching for clues in the dark basement of the house where the massacre occurred and tell me it doesn’t unnerve you:

A tapping noise comes from the ceiling, and Simone looks over at the stairs and then at her father. He doesn’t seem to hear the sound. He walks slowly toward a door at the far end of the room. Simone bumps into a rocking horse. Kennet opens the door and glances into a utility room containing a battered washing machine and dryer and an old-fashioned wringer. Next to a geothermal pump, a grubby curtain hangs in front of a large cupboard.

“Nobody here,” he says, turning to Simone.

She looks at him, seeing the grubby curtain behind him at the same time. It is completely motionless yet at the same time alive.

“Simone?”

There is a damp mark on the fabric, a small oval, as if made by a mouth…

It seems to Simone that the damp oval suddenly caves inward. “Dad,” she whispers.

There is no shame in admitting you might need Depends after reading that. I’ll wait while you pull it on.

The novel’s other strong point is its twisty, fast-paced plot. It’s just one WTF thing after another, leaving no chance for either characters or readers to relax. I did get frustrated with how Erik and Simone got so stressed, they couldn’t even communicate with each other, sometimes causing hurtful actions to come out of simple misunderstandings. But Detective Joona Linna is an amusing lead. He often gloats about how he’s never wrong but instead of coming across as arrogant, he instills confidence that’s badly needed when situations take really nasty turns.

Nerd verdict: Disturbing, suspenseful and thrilling Hypnotist

To read the first thirteen chapters, go here. Seriously, leave the lights on and have a change of undies.

Buy this now from Amazon| B&N| Indie Bookstores

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11 Comments

  • Reply
    Lauren
    June 22, 2011 at 7:22 am

    Have been *waiting* for this one (along with Before I Go To Sleep) and now even more so. Thanks for the review, E, it’s moving up the TBR!

  • Reply
    Naomi Johnson
    June 22, 2011 at 7:45 am

    This one is on my nightstand, and after reading that scene, I think I need a daystand for this book. How creepy that scene is.

  • Reply
    jenn aka the picky girl
    June 22, 2011 at 11:03 am

    Dammit PCN – you totally left me hanging! I want to read the rest right now.

    oh, guess that just means you did your job. 🙂

  • Reply
    Reader#9
    June 22, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Yikes! Yes, I actually said YIKES! while reading that passage. Don’t know how the rest of the book reads, but that one got me hooked.

  • Reply
    Poncho
    June 22, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    I heard about the novel, and now I’m quite excited to read it. Sounds really fantastic! I hope it’s already translated to spanish (you know, I still can’t read swedish…)

    Going to the bookstore ASAP!

  • Reply
    Pop Culture Nerd
    June 22, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    Lauren—If you read this and BIGTS back to back, you won’t get any sleep!

    Naomi—I think the daystand is a good idea. There are other creepy scenes like this.

    jenn—Did you click on the link so you can at least read 13 chapters? I think that will make you REALLY want to read more so you might as well just get the book!

    Reader#9—Mr. PCN said he’s never heard me be so loud while reading a book. I kept gasping and shouting at it. “Noooo!!” happened quite a few times.

    Poncho—I can’t read Swedish, either! The book should have been translated into Spanish and released by Planeta. Does that help?

    • Reply
      Lauren
      June 22, 2011 at 5:07 pm

      That, Nails, sounds suspiciously like a dare. Thusly, I will wait to get The Hypnotist from the library (third in line) and read them one after the other. Which, as you know, goes directly against the grain of my “hoard good books” nature as well as the current reading regime. But for you, the world. Which should be first?

      Naomi – I’ll tell you when I’m ready to read it and we’ll meet half-way in a well-light coffeeshop and read together.

      • Reply
        Pop Culture Nerd
        June 22, 2011 at 5:58 pm

        I have no doubt you would pass the challenge, since you’re Nerves O’Steel yourself. HYPNOTIST should be first. BIGTS (careful not to misread that as BIGT*TS) is not scary, just…claustrophobic.

        • Reply
          Lauren
          June 23, 2011 at 8:25 am

          I *did* read that as BIGT*TS, which reminds me of my favorite Twitter moment of last Christmas. Someone tried to start the hashtag #letitsnow, which, of course, morphed into “Le T*ts Now” instead of “Let it Snow.” Christmas carols will never be the same.

  • Reply
    Shell Sherree
    June 22, 2011 at 10:21 pm

    Yikes, I don’t know if I have the nerve for this one!! I’ll have to turn on the nightlight after reading those few paragraphs alone. But it sounds hard to resist. Maybe I’ll work myself up to it. For daytime reading only. Thanks for the wonderful review, PCN!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      June 23, 2011 at 8:28 pm

      Not just daytime but maybe outside! It is very creepy but I think it’ll be worth it for you to work up the nerve, Shell.

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