Not such a dream return
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,