You may recall that my friend Joanie, when asked about good thrillers she could recommend, immediately came up with two suggestions. The first one was Donato Carrisi's disturbing The Whisperer (Canada, USA, Europe), which I thoroughly enjoyed. The second one was Lars Kepler's The Hypnotist, another international sensation.
Given the fact that The Hypnotist ended up on bestseller lists in 33 different countries, I figured I couldn't possibly go wrong. Once again, I was left wondering why it takes so long for these novels to reach North American soil. As was the case with Stieg Larsson and Donato Carrisi, Lars Kepler, the pen name of a Swedish literary couple, enjoyed worldwide success before the book was released by an American publisher.
Here's the blurb:
In the frigid clime of Tumba, Sweden, Detective Inspector Joona Linna has been assigned to a gruesome triple homicide. The killer is still at large, and there’s only one surviving witness---the boy whose family was killed before his eyes. With one hundred knife wounds on his body, the boy lies in a state of shock, scared into silence. Linna sees only one option: hypnotism. He enlists Dr. Erik Maria Bark to mesmerize the boy, hoping to discover the killer through his eyes. It’s the sort of work that Bark has sworn he would never do again---ethically dubious and psychically scarring. When he breaks his promise and hypnotizes the victim, a long and terrifying chain of events begins to unfurl.
My expectations were quite high for this novel. Given the fact that Carrisi's The Whisperer had been incredible, I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into this one. Indeed, the rave reviews The Hypnotist garnered everywhere it was published promised another unforgettable reading experience.
The beginning doesn't disappoint. The plot captures your imagination, refusing to let go. As Dr. Erik Maria Bark gets a call to make his way to the hospital, where an injured teenage boy is the only witness to a number of gruesome murders, the reader gets sucked into this violent tale which gets more convoluted with each new chapter. For about a third of the novel, this thriller is about as good as it gets. A veritable page-turner, it makes for compulsive reading.
Problem is, The Hypnotist suffers from what I'd call the 24 syndrome. The main premise and everything attached to it are enthralling enough that readers have taken the bait, hook, line, and sinker. But like in the TV series 24, the authors felt the need to pad everything up with various extraneous plotlines that serve as false trails or complementary storylines. Which, in the end, sort of kills the pure awesomeness that made The Hypnotist such a spellbinding tale of murder from the start. True, regardless of that, the novel remains a very good thriller. And yet, The Hypnotist had the makings of a great book.
The characterization is impressive. In a genre in which character depth must sometimes suffer for the sake of a crisp pace, Lars Kepler did a wonderful job fleshing out the main protagonists and the supporting cast of this work. I'm probably a victim of my own expectations, but I do feel that Joseph Ek would have benefited from a bit more depth, as his plotline was by far the most fascinating early on. The authors have the annoying habit to change the POV perspective in the middle of a scene, which can be momentarily confusing.
As you know, I love multilayered works of fiction. The more complex, the better, I usually say. But there is such a thing as too multilayered, and The Hypnotist is the perfect example of that. True, there is no way to guess the ending. There are simply too many variables influencing the plot. My biggest complain would have to be that the novel's main premise, what makes you want to read The Hypnotist in the first place, suddenly gets relegated to a secondary plotline status, while other storylines kick into motion and take center stage for the rest of the book. It's not that I wasn't interested in Bark's past, in what caused him to quit and promise never to hypnotize patients again. Far from it. The long flashback chapter is one of the best sequences of the novel. But I could never look past the fact that the murder case at one point became secondary, as the blurb about the investigation is what sells you the book in the first place. As I mentioned, there was no need to involve Bark's wife, his past infidelity, Pokémon, teenage gangs, etc.
All in all, Lars Kepler's The Hypnotist is a good thriller that will keep you up a few nights running. Sadly, however, while the first 150 pages or so are incredibly perturbing and engrossing, the rest of the book fails to live up to its immense potential.