Lars Kepler is not the Swedish authors’ real name. Alexander Ahndoril and Alexandra Coelho, a married couple, are the actual authors. The name honors Stieg Larsson, the author of the “Girl With A Dragon Tattoo” series, and Johannes Kepler, mathematician, astrologer and astronomer famous for defining laws of planetary motion.
The book takes place in Sweden. It begins with a diabolical crime, the intensely violent murder of a family. The crime is being investigated by Detective Joona Linna. A neurosurgeon, a once disgraced hypnotist, perhaps falsely accused of impropriety, is called upon to hypnotize the surviving child of this horrifically brutal offense in order to find out further information about the crime. Although Erik Maria Bark refuses to become involved since he no longer practices hypnosis, he is convinced by the covering doctor and the detective that it is a matter of life and death. Eventually, he succumbs to their persuasion because the investigator feels it is imperative to interview the severely injured and traumatized boy, as soon as possible, not only to possibly protect his surviving sister from danger, but to rule out the possibility of his and/or her involvement in this heinous act. When journalists become aware of Bark’s involvement, they flock like geese to get statements from him and/or his family members. The publicity brings down a reign of unwanted attention and repulsive accusations placing his family in danger. Some accuse him of having violated the child’s civil rights and of breaking the law
In the end, most of those involved, especially in a supervisory capacity, allowed ego and politics to control their decisions, making off the cuff, and perhaps foolish, split second judgments, not based on thorough research or facts, but rather on damage control. These verdicts often disrupted the lives of innocent people because incorrect conclusions were drawn which only served to hinder the investigation, which only enflamed the wrong people and overstated the issues. As the investigation intensified, additional facts and crimes came to the surface which complicated the search for information and hampered the attempts to solve the case.
There was so much misdirection and redirection, leading the reader on a “merry” chase, albeit sometimes while they witnessed horrific events, that the reader was kept constantly guessing about the final outcome. There were stories within stories as the original investigation expanded deeper and deeper into the pasts of several rather disreputable characters, some of whom were former patients of Bark and some of whom were children. Where does this investigation lead the characters? Who is the ultimate perpetrator or are there more than one? Are all the perpetrators and victims connected to the same crimes?
For awhile, the book hummed along very well, but then, suddenly, an unnecessary sex scene interrupted the narrative and the timeline, distracting the reader and lessening the import of the story. Perhaps it would titillate a reader or two, but I would think most readers of this kind of a mystery would prefer to read one that flowed smoothly to its logical conclusion and would prefer to learn about how these indefensible crimes were being explored and solved. Still, there were so many new twists and ideas introduced that could have been relevant, or possibly not, that the reader cannot help but be tempted to continue to read on, in spite of the imperfections of the plot which lead to a question of its credibility. For instance, when a son disappears, the parents seem to investigate on their own, not really sharing information with each other or the police, in the timeliest fashion, which if they had, might have helped to crack the case more speedily.
Is the book a Nobel Prize winner? No! Is it exciting? You betcha! This book is not for the faint of heart, though. The characters are completely dysfunctional, and their descriptions and actions make them very unlikable. Even the characters you might be inclined to like, and there are only a very few, are terribly flawed. However, I believe that you will eagerly turn the pages, hoping to discover how the crimes were committed, how they were solved, and who, if anyone, would be the next victim?
I listened to an excellently read audio version in which the reader’s interpretation of the characters was authentic and individual so that it enhanced the book so much, I think it would be better as an audio than a print experience.