"THE HYPNOTIST," by Lars Kepler, Sarah Crichton Books, $27, 503 pages
It was inevitable that a book like “The Hypnotist” would appear in the wake of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. Like “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," and Scandinavian crime fiction in general, this novel seems poised to take the literary world by storm.
Lars Kepler, actually the pseudonym for a Swedish literary couple, begins the story with the slaughter of a man, his wife and daughter. The only living witness is the son, Josef Ek, who is suffering from multiple stab wounds and is barely coherent.
Joona Linna, an investigator for Sweden’s national police organization, is on the case. With no leads and seemingly no motive, Linna decides to have Josef hypnotized in order to gain information regarding the murder. He calls on Erik Bark to perform the hypnosis. He is a licensed clinical hypnotist who hasn’t practiced his trade in 10 years.
By hypnotizing Josef, Joona gets what he needs to move his investigation forward. It is also the beginning of a series of events that lead to all sorts of unintended consequences.
The plot of “The Hypnotist” is the novel’s best feature. However, the characters leave much to be desired. When Erik and his wife Simone are not trying to help with Linna’s investigation or trying to rescue their kidnapped son, they are participating in all sorts of self-centered, self-indulgent behavior. Erik is addicted to sleeping pills and painkillers. They both cheat on one another at different times during the story.
Their son Benjamin is a stereotypical teenager. As a character, he is painted in the broadest of strokes. He feels lots of angst, but he doesn’t display a lot of depth. He suffers from a rare blood disorder.
The only breath of fresh air in the book is Joona. He’s the only character in the story that comes off as a decent person. Unfortunately, since the authors see fit to arbitrarily withhold information about him, the reader never really understands what motivates him to act decently.
If it weren’t for all the sex, violence, and foul language, “The Hypnotist” could have joined the proud ranks of novels with great plots but that are filled flat characters. Unfortunately, these aspects of the book severely undermine the integrity of the story.
Matthew Seamons lives in Odgen.