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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Hypnotist

Lars Kepler

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To purchase The Hypnotist

Title: The Hypnotist
Author: Lars Kepler
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 503 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: The Hypnotist - US
The Hypnotist - UK
The Hypnotist - Canada
The Hypnotist - India
L'Hypnotiseur - France
Der Hypnotiseur - Deutschland
L'ipnotista - Italia
El hipnotista - España
  • Swedish title: Hypnotisören
  • Translated by Ann Long
  • The Hypnotist was made into a film in 2012, directed by Lasse Hallström and starring Tobias Zilliacus and Lena Olin

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Our Assessment:

B- : fast-paced, but the writing and presentation a bit too paint-by-the-numbers

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Dagens Nyheter B+ 17/7/2009 Lotta Olson
Entertainment Weekly A- 22/6/2011 Rob Brunner
The Guardian D 28/5/2011 Laura Wilson
The Independent B+ 24/5/2011 Barry Forshaw
The LA Times . 14/7/2011 Mindy Farabee
The NY Times Book Rev. C 24/7/2011 Marilyn Stasio
Salon . 19/6/2011 Laura Miller
Svenska Dagbladet B- 29/7/2009 Magnus Persson
Time A 27/6/2011 Lev Grossman
The Washington Post A 17/7/2011 Patrick Anderson

  Review Consensus:

  None -- some very impressed, others find the writing pretty bad

  From the Reviews:
  • "Lars Kepler utnyttjar skickligt de dramaturgiska knep som finns till hands. Här finns både thrillerns bladvändarhets, skräckromanens hoppa-fram-från-ingenstans-effekter och deckarens alltför vanliga onda psykopater till mördare. (...) Hypnotisören är en tät berättelse, men den grumliga undertonen gör mig faktiskt ganska illa till mods. Våldsinslagen är för spekulativa, för meningslöst sadistiska." - Lotta Olson, Dagens Nyheter

  • "The Hypnotist is hardly groundbreaking -- is there a cheaper shortcut to suspense than putting children in harm's way ? -- but it's still a worthy addition to the ever-expanding ranks of Scandinavian crime fiction." - Rob Brunner, Entertainment Weekly

  • "(A) bloated monster, which is a great shame because it conceals a slender, lithe novel based on a pretty nifty idea. (...) (A) confusing time scheme, reams of unnecessary detail and ham-fisted plotting all add up to a lack of urgency and make it hard to engage with the characters or care about what happens to them." - Laura Wilson, The Guardian

  • "The Hypnotist is set in Sweden, but the characters, the dilemmas and the unsettling murder case are universal. The book is essentially about the influence of family bonds, which carry both positive and destructive elements; this theme is provocatively explored, and there is a kinetic, filmic quality to the book, perhaps springing from the fact that the duo's inspiration is actually film rather than the written word." - Barry Forshaw, The Independent

  • "But what's nicer is that despite the propensity for sharp objects and sexual misconduct, The Hypnotist's authors generally avoid fetishizing victimization." - Mindy Farabee, The Los Angeles Times

  • "(T)he dislocations in time, glib psychology and repetitious depiction of guts and gore create more discomfort than tension." - Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

  • "This is a story of crossed signals, miscalculated risks and fatal mistakes, which may irritate crime fiction fans accustomed to the superhumanly clever, resourceful and quick-thinking heroes of American-style thrillers. However, the more plausible blunderings of Kepler's characters -- their switched-off cellphones and incautious snoopings -- seem closer to the way most of us ordinary humans would behave in similar situations, and that goes a long way toward compensating for certain outlandish aspects of the plot." - Laura Miller, Salon

  • "Det går inte att förneka att Kepler är en skicklig hantverkare. Romanen har klara bladvändarkvaliteter. Stilen är effektiv i sin konstlösa karghet. Men efterhand blir jag mer och mer skeptisk. Intrigbygget blir alltmer krystat." - Magnus Persson, Svenska Dagbladet

  • "Kepler has a special gift, if that's the word for it, for writing the dialogue of the insane. (...) It's that good. It's the hard stuff." - Lev Grossman, Time

  • "(A) serious, disturbing, highly readable novel that is finally a meditation on evil. (...) The deftly plotted story barrels along in more than a hundred short, swift scenes; it moves about as fast as a 500-page novel can." - Patrick Anderson, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Hypnotist begins with a fifteen-year-old boy, Josef Ek, in hospital, with severe knife wounds all over his body. His father had been brutally murdered and when the police had gone to inform the family they had discovered his mother and five-year-old sister butchered too; only Josef was still alive -- though gravely injured. One family member is missing: Josef's older sister, Evelyn, and with the police concerned about her safety (or the possibility that she was involved in the crime spree ...) they want to get a statement from Josef as soon as they can. He's in no physical condition to face questioning -- or, presumably, be confronted with the fact that so many close to him were killed in such a horrific manner -- but the investigator who has insinuated himself into the case, Joona Linna, is determined to learn what happened as soon as possible.
       Joona calls in Dr.Erik Maria Bark, because it seems that hypnosis is the only way that they can get the kid to talk in his condition. Erik seems to have a reputation as a psychiatrist who was an expert hypnotist; he dutifully comes to the hospital, but he's very reluctant to practice what he was once so famous for. Aside from the obvious dangers to the patient in subjecting him to the procedure, Erik has personal qualms too. Ominously, he says:

"I promised myself I would never use hypnosis again"
       That was ten years ago, and he has apparently kept his pledge -- but Joona convinces him to have another go at it.
       Needless to say, a big, big can of worms is opened when Erik gives in. For one, Josef gives them a very disturbing account of how the murders went down -- though given how the information is obtained they need more proof before they can be certain and charge the suspect. They also need to figure out the motive for the slaughter, which isn't immediately apparent. Nevertheless -- and unsurprisingly -- it's clear that a monster without conscience is behind the crime.
       Erik's use of hypnosis apparently wakes up more that had been dormant, too; it's clear that something bad happened years earlier, which led him to stop using hypnosis -- but it's only some three hundred pages in that the book jumps ten years back and Erik revisits that terrible time in his life, which led to a scandal, and a public vow not to ever resort to hypnosis again. With the once-famous (and notorious) hypnotist -- a specialist in "psychotraumatology and disaster psychiatry" -- now admitting to having gone back on his promise there is a new uproar -- and there are other consequences.
       Erik is married to Simone, but they're going through a bit of a rough patch. Erik pops pills to knock himself out at night, and Simone is feeling both underappreciated and jealous; the two also have something of a communication problem. [Given that The Hypnotist was written by a husband-and-wife team it's absolutely astonishing how poor the depiction of this fictional couple is, their inability and unwillingness to communicate straightforwardly, the conclusions they jump to too quickly -- and the rash actions they take -- often verging on the ludicrous; it makes the relationships of couples on third-rate TV sit-coms look convincing by comparison.] They have a teenage son named Benjamin, who suffers from von Willebrand's disease -- a haemophiliac condition that leaves him vulnerable if he suffers any injury, since his blood doesn't readily coagulate.
       The monster behind the Ek-family massacre proves to be a continued threat for a while, the wily killer surprisingly elusive. But then Benjamin is kidnapped -- and it doesn't seem that the same person could be behind that too. Because of Benjamin's medical condition, requiring an injection once a week if he isn't to be in mortal danger from even the slightest wound, it becomes a race against time to find the boy.
       Clearly, it is something from Erik's past -- and his previous hypnosis sessions -- that holds the key, and Kepler does offer a fairly clever explanation of how it all came to this. Of course, the reliance on a group of crazies -- Erik's patients -- simplifies matters: quite a few of the characters are not rational actors, and so they get up to all sorts of unexpected and terrible things.
       Indeed, varying degrees of irrationality are a bit too prevalent throughout the story, with victims who don't go to the authorities and many who are afraid to reveal significant information (hampering all the investigations -- even as they eventually all blurt out whatever it was they had refused to reveal previously) as well some particularly nasty kids, and a variety of policemen and others who don't follow protocol (or even common sense), from not accepting police protection when it is obviously warranted (and then also not answering their cell phones, as it apparently doesn't occur to them that someone might have something vital to tell them ...) to policemen who don't wait for back-up and go it alone (a lesson Joona at least learned the hard way, long, long ago, though Simone's father, now retired but also a longtime member of the force, and whom she calls in to help find the kid, should certainly know better).
       The Hypnotist is narrated in a weird sort of rushed but deliberate way, with the characters sometimes very much taking their time when it doesn't really seem they have to (and other times rushing forward in a panic when that seems unnecessary as well). The dialogue-heavy text, chopped up into more than a hundred chapters, moves along quickly -- but without always getting somewhere: for such a fast-paced story there's also a lot of treading of water. Kepler's choice of recounting some episodes a second time, from a different perspective adds to the jerky progression of the narrative.
       Some characters seem little more than stepping stones, used and then disposed of when they aren't needed any longer; it doesn't make for holes in the story, but it does feel like storylines have just been left dangling, unsatisfactorily resolved -- what happened to Evelyn ? how is Aida doing ? etc. etc. Dashing along as it does, the story does fine with the limited characterization on offer; in fact, it's when Kepler tries to dig a bit deeper -- with Simone, for example -- that it seems less believable. Kepler is also rather hamfisted in the presentation of much of the relevant material, most obviously the scandal Erik went through a decade earlier: it was front page news, but Kepler coyly doesn't reveal anything about it until he's good and ready, even as everyone else in the story surely is in the know about it, a pointless kind of keeping only readers in the dark that proves only irritating (there's enough Kepler doesn't have to give away immediately to make the details of the scandal every bit as effective -- or more so -- than in the way it's presented here).
       Also noteworthy about The Hypnotist is how blasé it is about the incompetence of the authorities. There's some appeal in showing the police as not always entirely professional, bumbling through cases, but except for Joona, the competence level here is astonishingly low and lackadaisical, from the securing of crime scenes to the protection of witnesses and suspects. So too among the social workers, mental health professionals, and hospital administrators who are involved over the years. Given the number of people who wind up running around (or not) with their noses cut off without anyone doing much about, it's hard not to see The Hypnotist asd a wholesale (but very superficial) indictment of the Swedish social welfare state (which seems to provide minimal if any social welfare to anyone in this novel).
       With a somewhat intriguing premise, and a few promising characters -- including Joona and Erik -- and with its breathless rush onwards (if not always, it seems, forwards), The Hypnotist is a readable, unpredictable thriller. Too much, however, is done by the numbers, and the often terrible dialogue, wildly uneven pacing, cartoonish relationships (not just Erik and Simone's), and peculiar investigative methods (for a while Erik's retired father-in-law plays Nancy Drew, too, though Kepler tires of that and runs him over, in a move straight out of the thriller paint-by-the-numbers handbook) makes it all look very amateurish -- 'Lars Kepler' is no natural or gifted writer.
       The Hypnotist is acceptable pass-time reading, and it does go fast, but overall it is fairly second-rate.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 August 2011

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The Hypnotist: Reviews: The Hypnotist - the film: 'Lars Kepler': Other books by 'Lars Kepler' under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       'Lars Kepler' is the pseudonym of the Swedish crime-writing couple, Alexander and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril.

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