The Hypnotist is a cut above the average pulp thriller but it's not as intellectually or emotionally satisfying as some of the great Scandinavian noir of late -- fans of Larsson, Nesbo, Indridasson and Fossum will find it lacking in cohesion. It also loses that special Nordic form of underlying tension and uncertainty which usually informs the genre; it's there at the beginning, but before long the story has slumped into a rather mundane domestic dispute and an unlikely investigation into a missing child.
That's a shame because the opening chapters and back story of the key character, the hypnotist, are fascinating and hold a lot of promise. But then that strand becomes swamped by a rather more dry police procedural. The result was an interesting novel, but not one which I would want to read again to re-live the experience. The detective didn't feel like a fully realised character to me, so if he is to be the central point of a whole series of books then he would need to be rather better defined -- his flashes of inspiration and unruly nature need to be better explored to make him compelling.
I'd grab this to read if stuck for a few hours, but wouldn't choose another book by the author if I could pick up something by Fred Vargas or Ake Edwardsson instead.
'The Hypnotist' is a highly entertaining, gripping thriller, full of twists, turns and blind alleys, keeping you guessing right to the end. The writing is very accessible and brings the story to life in a very visual way - it's easy to imagine what the film of the book would be like.
The story is about a hypnotist, Erik Maria Bark, who hasn't practised his craft for over 10 years. He is called in to help with a case of a boy found badly injured but alive in his family home, after the rest of his family has been brutally murdered. Erik is pressurised into hypnotising the boy to see if he can remember anything which will help the police to find the killer. This foray back into practising hypnosis sets off a chain of events which involves the rest of his family and which forces him to re-examine his past and the reasons why he had to stop being a hypnotist.
I was worried that the book would wildly dramatise hypnosis as a magical, black art. It does misrepresent it to some degree, but I forced myself to accept this as a literary device so if you're like me and find the hypnotism angle off-putting, try to look at it that way!
I was frustrated with some aspects of the novel - for example there are aspects of the story that are not properly resolved and, to me, it felt as though the authors lost interest with the first part of the story and were keen to move on to the next! In parts it felt disjointed - at the beginning we get chapters devoted to different characters' take on the same time period, but this device isn't employed further into the book and I found that a bit odd. Lars Kepler is actually a pseudonym for a literary couple - Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril and Alexander Ahndoril and I wonder if the joint-authorship was in any way responsible for the occasional disjointedness.
In spite of that, this is a great read and, apparently, will be the first in a series of books featuring Detective Inspector Joona Linna ... I very much look forward to the second.
on 14 July 2012
This was an interesting adventure which starts off with the brutal murder of a family. However, it soon branches into another crime story. As a reader I'm waiting to find out how the second is connected to the first. But the two stories only appear to be connected through the hypnotist performing hypnosis. The characters are well drawn and there's a secret in the hypnotist's past so he promised never to perform hypnosis again. He's portrayed as a fairly flawed character unable to cope with life without daily amounts of pill popping. His relationship with his wife is very shaky. She isn't drawn as fully and half way through the story a relationship pops up for her that seems quite out of keeping with the story so far. Also the sexual scenes seem gratuitous within the story. The story is fast paced and page turning, however, and I enjoyed it but I was waiting for a connection between the two crime stories that wasn't there.
on 3 July 2011
Overblown grand guignol, far too loosely plotted and with badly drawn characters. Fashionable "issues" thrown in to convince reviewers that it's saying something important; it isn't. Leaves an overwhelming impression of a literary couple (as the writers apparently are) who realized they weren't making enough out of their good stuff so analysed all the cliches which infest bestsellers and mixed them up to create this. Pity.
on 24 December 2011
I was utterly gripped by the first half of this book, but gradually found myself wondering whether I could be bothered seeing it through to the end.
As it stands, what could have been brilliant turned out just ok. The book seemed to start off as one story, dilute into several, none of which seemed to come to a satisfactory conclusion, and then end with a very 'seen it a million times before' finale. But it does provide an interesting and realistic image of Sweden, both the positive and the negative sides. You can almost smell the coffee and herrings!
I would also ask that publishers invest a bit more in translation. The English in this one is better than for some Swedish novels, but is still a mixture of UK and US English. This is probably a way of keeping costs down, but it is irritating. One minute people are ringing each other on their mobiles whilst driving on the motorway, next minute they're calling on their cells from the freeway. Same applies for police officer ranks. It would make a lot more sense if they used terms such as DC/DS/PC etc, which UK readers are familiar with, and their US equivalents for the US market.
All in all, this novel was ok, but I wouldn't read it again, recommend it to anyone else, or buy another by the same author.
on 16 September 2011
There is an annoying trend for `literary fiction' writers, aghast at how few books they actually sell, to think they can just stamp out a crime thriller to pay the bills. Alongside this patronising view is the assumption that theirs will be `a cut above' and somehow superior because they are so literary.
This book shows that they are wrong.
The couple writing this may be great at what they do, but they can't write crime. There are at least four major problems with this novel.
Firstly, it is several novels at once. It's okay to segue between different scenarios and times, but please do it with some subtlety and smoothness. Don't, for example, just stuff ninety pages of back story into the book, stopping the momentum of what you've done, and leaving the reader bored.
Secondly, if you insist on writing a genre that is alien to you, at least have regard to the basics of that genre. Don't rely on crude stereotypes and tropes, thinking that your `literary brilliance' will stop it seeming mediocre. Weird evil kids, genius doctor with a secret past, aloof detective loved by all despite his social inadequacies. We've been here before.
Thirdly, have a plot. This has several, to be fair, but doesn't exploit any of them. One is wrapped up halfway (but somehow reappears again later), one is the clunky midsection mentioned above, one is ludicrous and resolved with a ridiculous leap.
Fourthly, get some credible characters. None of these characters leapt off the page, or seemed rounded or written in a controlled and credible way. Oh, and have some idea of pacing - when to ramp up the adrenaline, when to take a break and be more reflective.
This reads like a book written by two totally different people (though Nicci French seems to manage okay). It reads like it was written by people who don't read crime novels, but assume it must be simple to write one. It reads poorly.
on 25 May 2011
After suffering withdrawal symptoms from the fantastic Steig Larsson trilogy, and due to the fact that the book reviewer in my local newspaper is usually always spot on with their Book of the Week recommendations, I couldn't wait to start this. It did indeed have all the hallmarks of a great book. The beginning was terrific and I thought I had a new police hero in Joona Linna but strangely his part in the story fell a little flat. After the flashback to Erik's past 10 years ago, the story then became extremely implausible. I cannot describe how disappointed I was. In parts in was laughable, especially the coma victim scenario and the ending. I also found I didn't really like most of the characters, especially the dreadful Simone. Everyone seemed to be in a trance like state half the time, which got increasingly annoying as the story unfolded. If this husband and wife team write another book, which includes Joona Linna and more emphasis on his character and his past, I may give it a go to give them the benefit of the doubt, but they will really have to up their game to compete with the likes of Larsson and Mankell.
on 8 August 2012
I've never written an amazon review before, but I was so shocked by the unbelievably turdlike quality of this book I felt duty bound to write one in the vague hope that I might save another hapless reader the pain and tedium I've just gone through. Where to start? Let's face it, we're not looking for great characters in a thriller, but those that populate this book are so paper thin and feebly characterised you start rooting for one of the baddies to do away with them and end the torture. What you do expect, however, is a good plot. This book doesn't have one. It's a series of random ramblings, stuttering from one false start to another dead end, constantly teasing the reader that there might be something of interest around the corner. That corner never comes. Added to that, it's not remotely scary or suspenseful. The book is completely amateurish, padded out with an unlikely series of events (you couldn't really call it a plot), lurching from one irritating premise to another. So why has it done so well? I cannot imagine. Half a million copies sold in Sweden? Who to? Ten year olds? Maybe they gave the book away. It really feels like it. There's some marketing scam going on behind the success of this book that really makes me jealous. If they could hype up such non-entity of a product what couldn't the publishers put to their skills to? You'll notice there are glowing reviews on the back by newspapers as varied as the Daily Mail and The Independent. Don't believe a word of them. They must be all favours being repaid. At no point in this novel does it ever live up to the hyperbole and promise spluttered so effusively on the back. The puff pieces they are flogging it on are nothing more than a series of outrageous lies. And finally, the prose. Jesus Christ. It reads like it's been translated into Mongolian and back by an illiterate goat herd. The sentences are things a five year old would write. A ten year would be ashamed of them.
I've read a fair number of thriller writers in my time - Le Carre, Harlan Coben, Mo Hayder and the odd Jack Reacher novel. Some of those are not great literary fiction, but what they do have is a thrilling plot, and a payoff when you get to the end. The only payoff with this book is that you've finished the damn thing and you can be released from the drudgery of reading it. Do yourself a favour. Don't.
WARNING - POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT!
Crime thrillers are the one genre that I read the least often. The last one I read, and really enjoyed, was Jo Nesbo's THE SNOWMAN. I would recommend that book, unfortunately I wouldn't recommend THE HYPNOTIST.
The story begins with a family - the father, mother and young daughter - being murdered violently. Josef Elk, the young boy to the murdered couple survives but is in a critical condition. The police quickly draw upon the skills of Erik Maria Bark, a man who has worked with trauma victims for years, using hypnosis as one of his therapeutic tools. The police are concerned that Josef's elder sister, Evelyn, is at risk, as it seems that the killer was intent on wiping out the whole family. And so they persuade Erik to hypnotise Josef, even though Erik swore ten years previously, never to use hypnosis again.
That short synopsis forms the focus for the first 250 pages or so. The killer's identity is discovered in that time, Evelyn is found and Josef runs away from hospital. Then, the story takes a dramatic turn of direction when Erik's son is kidnapped. Josef and his sister are more or less forgotten, whilst another thread is developed. The problem with this thread - it goes back to Erik's past, ten years ago, to explain why he stopped using hypnosis with his patients - is that, although it explains that reason, it comes across in quite a jarring way. As others have said, it almost feels as though it is a second book, separate from the one that came before. From this moment on, the identity of the kidnapper, rather than the killer of the family, is the focus and in this process, the reader is taken down various paths, until Erik finally discovers who the kidnapper is, and why.
What I didn't like about this book is that, although there were twists and turns to the plot, instead of adding tension and interest, it just made me frustrated. The murders at the beginning of the story are pushed right away from the focus of attention, only for Josef to reappear towards the end of the story, for almost no good reason whatsoever. Also, we never really understand Josef as a character. A short explanation of how he could have turned into such a twisted boy is given, but most of this is discovered by the reader within the first 250 pages, so it left me thinking that Josef and his family were just used as a short distraction by the authors.
Charcaterisation was generally poor in this book. I didn't like any of them. The structure, for a thriller, was strange with the focus turning away from a killer to finding the kidnapper. And the twists along the way were more frustrating than well thought out. Overall, it does feel that the two authors were going after separate stories, with thier own agendas making it awkward and disjointed. Plus, they paint a very dark, twisted picture of humanity. All of the characters were either victim or perpetrator, with virtually all of the secondary characters having been abused and many of them then turning into abusers themselves.
I really didn't like this book. Would not recommend it at all. Although I don't read crime thrillers a lot, I know when I come across a poor one. THE HYPNOTIST, unfortunately, is poor.
on 4 February 2014
The first book I've read in ages that I couldn't put down - I read it in about three sittings. While it has some minor flaws (some overcomplicated plotting here and there), it's completely riveting. One reviewer commented that she really disliked the domestic dispute between the hypnotist and his wife. I have to disagree - it felt painfully real, and very dramatic, and added considerably to the character development of the hypnotist himself. I had similar response to Mo Hayder's first two novels, The Birdman and The Treatment - like those two books, The Hypontist is highly original, full of drama, with a race against time denouement that would work beautifully on film.