Even Stevens’s CBR-III review #31: The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler

As I began reading The Hypnotist, my first few thoughts went something like this: “This book is awesome!” and “This is going to be a glowing CBR review”. Had the second half of the book progressed in the same manner as the first half, these things would have been true, but ultimately I was disappointed by this book.

The Hypnotist is a Swedish thriller, translated here into English, and I have read umpteen comparisons of this book to the Stieg Larsson/Dragon Tattoo series, but there’s really no connection (in my mind) other than the fact that they’re both Swedish and both about crime. Anyways, the book is told from the perspective of various characters, although there’s really no rhyme or reason to the order of the perspectives. The book begins with a brutal crime: a family is found dead, butchered and covered in copious amounts of blood. The 15-year-old son, Josef, actually survives, although his injuries are extensive and are still considered life-threatening. Detective Joona Linna convinces Dr. Erik Maria Bark, a famous hypnotist who has not practiced hypnotism in 10 years, to hypnotize the boy. The oldest daughter is still unaccounted for and Linda believes finding out what happened could be the difference between life and death for the girl.

Sounds pretty intense, right? It was. Words like “chilling” and “gripping” came to mind and I was so engrossed I couldn’t put the book down. Soon after these events, however, the book begins to change course. A second crime occurs, one that affects Erik personally, and Erik examines his life, specifically his past history with hypnotism, trying to figure out who would want to hurt him and why. This is where the books goes off the rails and really doesn’t recover.

I had several problems with the book. First, and this is probably my biggest gripe, it slowly becomes apparent that there are no real likeable characters to be found in this book. Anyone who might be remotely sympathetic gets approximately 2 pages of book time. Linna is about the closest we get to a relatable character, but I think it’s more due to lack of character development than any actual redeeming characteristics. Erik and his wife Simone were just grating, self-centered and seemed to thrive off of hurting each other. My other issues are with the pacing and the solving of the second crime (the first one reaches a conclusion surprisingly quickly and is one of several situations that seems to be of central importance and then is discarded with little fanfare). There are several instances in which a very tense situation emerges and then it either switches perspectives or in one instance, we get a flashback of nearly 100 pages to Erik’s hypnotism research days. I believe the intent of the author is to create page-turning suspense, but for me it had the opposite effect; it deflated the tension and came to the point where I was just frustrated with the constant switches.

The flashback to Erik’s hypnotism days presents the other major issue I had. He immediately identifies someone in his past that he believes may be responsible for the second crime. ***POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD*** The woman he believes to be responsible is revealed to be a red herring (and she wasn’t a very subtle red herring either, hence why I said only possible spoilers. If you’ve read a crime novel pretty much ever, you know she wasn’t the perp). Here’s where my problem with this lies: up until this point all the characters have been pretty sharp-witted and think quickly on their feet. But the real perp is introduced in the flashbacks as well and may as well have red flags sticking out of his or her clothing and be ringing a bell while yelling “It was me! I did it!” and yet they can’t seem to think of anyone else who might wish Erik harm. ***END SPOILERS***

So, my spoiler-free description of the second issue I had is that what start out as sharp, quick-thinking characters turn into oblivious people who are racing the clock. I could even handle this development if they were out-matched, but it seemed much more like a plot contrivance than natural character progression.

There are some other minor issues I had with characters and/or their situations as well, but none that match the others I mentioned above. I had high hopes for this book after reading the first few grisly chapters, but sadly the novel failed to live up to its own potential.

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