Review: The Hypnotist by Lars Keplar

The Hypnotist by a husband and wife team writing as Lars Kepler is the latest Swedish novel to gain widespread attention in the crime fiction world. It starts out with the brutal murder of a man, his wife and young daughter. His teenage son has also been terribly injured but is not dead and there is a scramble to find out what the boy, Josef Ek, saw. Naturally enough (<– sarcasm implied) the first thought of detective Joona Linna is to engage the services of a disgraced hypnotist to get inside the boy’s head. Dr Erik Maria Bark is actually a specialist dealing in the treatment of shock and associated trauma but Linna is only interested in his hypnotism skills and when it is discovered that Josef has an older sister who is still alive but may be in danger from the killers, Bark reluctantly agrees to hypnotise the lad. Not unsurprisingly things go wrong for pretty much everyone from that point onwards.

You need clues. You need time. You need a motive. You won’t have any of them.

This is the beginning of the publisher’s summary and your reaction to it will tell you whether or not this is the book for you. If it makes you want to read more then you’ll probably enjoy the book. If, like me, this makes you roll your eyes then you should look elsewhere. I should have read the summary first and avoided the book itself.

It’s not that it’s the most terrible book I’ve ever read, merely that it’s silly and very, very long. The plot hovers around the absurd end of the credibility spectrum which is OK for a thriller except there is more than a dash of soap opera in this mix which stretches the gaps  between thrills. And I think for a thriller to be truly successful there has to be at least one character who is vaguely plausible as a real-world human being. That’s why ‘ordinary bloke who gets caught up in mayhem’ books are so popular; because readers can imagine what they might do themselves in such circumstances. Here I didn’t find any of the characters particularly believable and the more of their stories that were revealed the less credible I found them. Would an experienced detective turn to a hypnotist as his first port of call in a murder enquiry (there wasn’t much pretence at exhausting more routine investigative methods before turning to the less orthodox)? And if so would he choose someone who had been professionally discredited? I could just about buy that a disgraced hypnotist in Bark’s circumstances would allow himself to be talked into doing something he knew he shouldn’t do but his behaviour from that point on, as his family became involved in a parallel thread, was entirely ridiculous.

To me this book was a jumble of gore-infused violence, junk science and a highly implausible collection of psychopaths all focusing their attentions on one suburban family. When combined with fairly shallow characters and an awkward arrangement of plot threads the result was not to my taste at all It read more like a Hollywood treatment than  anything else and I don’t imagine I’ll remember a single detail in a couple of months. If it had been a print book I’d have stopped reading before the end, as it was the lovely narration by Eamonn Riley was enough to keep me vaguely entertained while vacuuming and doing other hum drum chores. But only just.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

The Hypnotist has been reviewed (generally more favourably than I’ve done here) at DJ’s Krimiblog, Euro Crime (Lizzie) and Euro Crime (Maxine) (where I think Maxine shares some of my scepticism)

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 2/5
Translator Ann Long
Narrator Eamonn Riley
Publisher Harper Collins [2011]
ISBN N/A (downloaded from audible.com)
Length 17 hours 4 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #2 in the Joona Linna series (though as far as I know the first book is not yet available in English)
Source I bought it

This entry was posted in book review, Lars Kepler, Nordic Challenge 2011, Sweden. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Review: The Hypnotist by Lars Keplar

  1. Norman says:

    Two stars! I won’t be reading this one because most of the time I agree with you, and Maxine. The words very long are enough to put me off while I have so many highly recommended books on my TBR. Thanks for this review/warning. ;o)

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  2. Maxine says:

    I too agree with your take, Bernadette! It has some good elements, and I thought the family portrait of Eric, wife and child was the strongest bit but as with other parts of the book, the potential was thrown away. I did love (sarcasm implied!) the part about the man in coma, almost dead, etc etc, dashing out to the graveyard and involved in exciting chase, etc. (not!) I also felt incensed at the description of Eric’s clinic in which he has this murderer and some vulnerable women in a room and hypnotises them all to share experiences – no wonder that one went pear shaped! But really , it soon got hard to care about anyone, as you write, because of all the unbelievable plot twists and the sense of “dollars!” pervading the whole thing (apparently a Hollywood movie is planned)…

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  3. Kathy D. says:

    Good review. I had taken this book off my TBR list after reading some critical reviews, but now it’s going on my “Do not ever think of reading this book” list. Thanks for the as-always honest appraisal.

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  4. Rob says:

    Well I was already thinking of giving this a miss, but your own and Maxine’s review has steered me clear. I don’t mind ridiculous plots as long as the book is set up as knowingly ridiculous, otherwise it drives me crazy. Straight thrillers are generally not cast as such.

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  5. Jose Ignacio says:

    I’ll be missing this one too. Thanks for your review Bernadette.

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  6. Bernadette – Thanks so much for this review. I’m planning actually to give this one a miss. I had the sort of feeling I might feel about this the way that you do, just based on other things I’ve read about it. Your thoughtful and well-written review just reinforces what I already suspected. Thanks for that :-).

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  7. I liked the character of Joony Linna, but I would never tell anyone they *should* read this thriller. It seems to be what many Scandinavians love, though. because of the drama and the fast pace.

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  8. Amanda Mac says:

    I might give it a try, but don’t like my chances of enjoying it. Still, it is good to know what not to read or waste valuable reading time on….

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  9. Kathy D. says:

    Agreed with your posts at FF about needing to care about the murder victim, as a person, and do not care about mutilated bodies thrown around the road. I wonder who likes this stuff, to whom are publishers selling with these themes? Why is it being pushed more in plots to sell books?
    I don’t get it.
    P.S. I’m liking Corinna Chapman, chief baker of Melbourne in Kerry Greenwood’s first book. Laughing out loud a lot.

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    • Kathy those violent books sell lots of copies..that worries me some times as I sit on the bus or in other crowded spaces…at least some of those people must be reading all that blood and gore 🙂

      Glad you are enjoying Corinna….it’s definitely at the lighter end of the spectrum but sometimes we need that and I find her and the gang in the apartment building lots of fun

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  10. Kathy D. says:

    It worries me too about who is reading the blood-and-guts thrillers which add up the body/blood/gore counts, disassociated from human beings. And why do they sell? Maybe it’s akin to video games where the player shoots or blows up thousands of nameless people/targets.
    And, yes, Corinna Chapman is fun, but there’s a lot of intelligent wit in Earthly Delights. I enjoyed last night as she and her loyal cat, Horatio, are watching a gruesome horror movie, and she gets terrified, she remarks about how good is German Expressionism. Lots of literary and historic references which are great. This is going on my gift list for a friend for the holidays.

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  11. Kathy D. says:

    Agree with you on FF about Gunshot Road. That book stands head and shoulders above the average mystery or “literary fiction,” under which category it should fall. I don’t know why it wasn’t nominated for a Ned Kelly award. It was beautifully written, with prose to be savored, even a sentence at a time. Few books I see are like that, although I read a a lot of good ones. The characters, plot, writing, sense of place and more elevate this book to a high level. The location was a character. I could imagine myself experiencing the environment, all of the aspects, and the deprivation, too of the Indigenous people. So much sensitivity in this writing, too, about the lives of Indigenous people in Australia.
    This book also sent me to read further about the region Hyland was writing about, and about the peoples, their culture and more.
    I was praising this book also to other readers.. And I don’t know why it wasn’t nominated. It should have won. That is more than disappointing. But I’m still disappointed that Hypothermia didn’t win last year’s Dagger.

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  15. Good review! “Silly and very, very long” sums it up well. Had to laugh because I was also listening to the audiobook version and doing housework! The first in the series, was better as far as I can recall.

    You’ve got a great blog. I’ll be using it as a resource to find new authors, especially Australian ones.

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    • It’s nice to have a distraction while doing the housework Lisa….even a silly one. I hope you have luck tracking down some good Aussie crime writing…I know I’m biased but I think we can hold our heads up with the rest of the world.

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