Not such a dream re­turn

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - ROBERT J. WIERSEMA

One of my favourite reads of the sum­mer of 2011 was The Hyp­no­tist, the de­but thriller from a Swedish cou­ple writ­ing un­der the pseu­do­nym Lars Ke­pler. The novel was an in­tense, char­ac­ter-based thrill ride, firmly grounded in re­al­ity. It left read­ers eagerly an­tic­i­pat­ing the fol­lowup, which would also fea­ture Det. Insp. Joona Linna.

That fol­lowup, The Night­mare, is out now, and it’s a dis­ap­point­ment, to say the least. The Night­mare suf­fers from the worst form of se­quel-itis: it’s big­ger, it’s dum­ber, and it’s com­pletely lost touch with ev­ery­thing that made The Hyp­no­tist such a great read.

The novel be­gins promis­ingly enough, with the dis­cov­ery of two dead bod­ies, but un­der vastly dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances. The first is that of a woman, found on a drift­ing boat, her lungs full of sea-wa­ter. She has clearly drowned, but she bears no trace of hav­ing been in the wa­ter. The sec­ond is that of Carl Palm­crona, the di­rec­tor of a gov­ern­ment body which over­sees such ex­ports as ar­ma­ments and other mil­i­tary prod­ucts. Palm­crona has clearly killed him­self, but the cir­cum­stances are murky enough to cause a twinge in de­tec­tive Linna, and he be­gins to re­veal con­nec­tions be­tween the two bod­ies.

Soon, the novel turns into a head­long, tick­ing-clock thrill ride that quickly aban­dons any sense of cred­i­bil­ity or scale as it builds.

The Night­mare would be hard to rec­om­mend on its own mer­its: the di­a­logue is hack­neyed and stagy, it re­lies overly on co­in­ci­dence and in­tu­itive leaps that defy both ev­i­dence and sense, and the writ­ing it­self is sloppy, with clumsy shifts of per­spec­tive, faulty time­lines, au­tho­rial in­tru­sion and a ham-hand­ed­ness that’s al­most in­sult­ing.

It is in com­par­i­son to The Hyp­no­tist, how­ever, that The Night­mare’s faults are most glar­ing. Gone is the sen­si­tiv­ity to char­ac­ter­i­za­tion, the gen­uine peril that de­vel­ops on a small scale when read­ers are in­vested in the char­ac­ters in a piece.

In­stead, the Ke­pler team blows up the story to in­clude the il­le­gal arms trade, geno­cides in Africa, a seem­ingly all-pow­er­ful con­tract killer, and a mythol­ogy around the leg­end of Pa­ganini and his ‘deal with the devil’. Char­ac­ters are lit­tle more than walk­ing cliches.

Chief among the ca­su­al­ties of the sec­ond novel is Joona Linna him­self. In The Hyp­no­tist, he was a re­al­is­tic po­lice of­fi­cer. In The Night­mare, he be­comes al­most su­per-heroic, given to leaps of logic that defy even the du­bi­ous re­al­ism of the story, prac­ti­cally un­stop­pable in his pur­suit.

I fin­ished my re­view of The Hyp­no­tist with the com­ment that I was eagerly look­ing for­ward to what the Ke­pler duo might do next. Not this time. The Night

mare by Lars Ke­pler (McClel­land and Ste­wart, 512 pages,

$29.99)

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