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The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler
Translated by Ann Long;
Review by Verna Suit
Farrar, Straus and Giroux Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780374173951
Date: 21 June 2011 List Price $27.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Wikipedia Entry / Show Official Info /

This stunning psychological thriller opens as Dr. Erik Maria Bark is called to a Stockholm hospital to try to communicate with a badly injured, comatose boy. Fifteen-year-old Josef is the only one of his little family left alive after a brutal massacre -- the only one, that is, except his older sister Evelyn, who was elsewhere at the time. Police need Josef to tell them who the attacker was so that they can try to save Evelyn's life.

Detective Joona Linna convinces Erik to hypnotize the boy using an experimental process that Erik developed in his work with psychological trauma victims. The problem is, after a bad outcome 10 years ago that almost cost Erik his license, he pledged never to use hypnosis again. The outcome this time is bad again. Erik will soon find out just how bad.

Josef goes missing from the hospital and Erik's 14-year-old son Benjamin goes missing from home. It's imperative to find both boys as soon as possible -- Josef because he may be a homicidal maniac, and Benjamin because he suffers from the rare blood disorder von Willebrand's disease that requires frequent shots to keep him alive. A big question is whether the two disappearances are related. At this point The Hypnotist becomes a suspenseful, complex chase scene that is hard to put down.

Joona and Erik both play leading roles in the story but Erik necessarily gets more attention because it is his life and actions that drive the plot. Besides his career complications and his missing son, his marriage is unraveling because his wife no longer trusts him, he's addicted to prescription drugs, and he's haunted by the patients in his last, ill-fated hypnosis/therapy group. Joona, on the other hand, is a steady rock. He's tall and handsome, dances beautifully, speaks multiple languages, and is always right. Admittedly he's a bit too idealized, but as Lee Child has demonstrated with his wildly popular Jack Reacher series, readers love having a perfect hero they can count on every time.

The Hypnotist is the first novel by Lars Kepler, but the name is a pseudonym for the Swedish literary couple Alexander and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril who both have successful fiction careers on their own, so it shouldn't be a surprise that the book is so well constructed and polished. The story may seem disjointed at first, but one gets used to the structure of having key scenes retold from other characters' perspectives. Short chapters help keep the pages turning, and soon the temptation is to read this 500-page book in a single sitting. The plot twists and turns all the way to an exciting climax in Lappland in deep December. The Hypnotist is the first in at least a trilogy featuring Detective Joona Linna and I look forward to reading about his future cases.

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