A new star enters the firmament of Scandinavian thrillerdom, joining the likes of Larsson, Nesbø and Mankell.
Kepler, a pseudonym for what the publisher describes as “a literary couple who live in Sweden,” continues in the Stygian—or, better, Stiegian—tradition of unveiling the dark rivers that swirl under the seemingly placid and pacific Nordic exterior. Scarcely has the novel opened when we find a scene of extreme mayhem: A schoolteacher and his librarian wife, pillars of their small Stockholm-area community, have been savagely butchered, and their young daughter, too, with a teenage son sliced to ribbons and left for dead. Enter Erik Maria Bark, a therapist and hypnotist called onto the scene by the supervising physician and a world-weary (naturally) police investigator, Joona Linna, who theorizes that the killer had waited for the father, a soccer referee in his off hours, hacked him into pieces, then headed to his house to dispatch the rest of the family, suggesting at least some acquaintance. “It happened in that order?” asks Bark, ever methodical, to which Linna responds, “In my opinion.” Both men are guarded, for both have been wounded in the past, and both are fighting battles of their own in the present. Their psychic conflicts are nothing compared to those that rage through the scissors- and knife-wielding types they encounter in trying to get to the bottom of the crime, which takes them across miles and years. Kepler handles a complex plot assuredly, though the momentary switch from third- to first-person narration in midstream, as well as the shifts forward and backward in time, may induce whiplash. (They’re for a good reason.) Linna and Bark make a great crime-solving pair precisely because they puzzle each other so thoroughly—says Bark, for instance, “The patient always speaks the truth under hypnosis. But it’s only a matter of what he himself perceives as the truth.” To which Linna responds, “What is it you’re trying to say?” Indeed.
What Bark is trying to say is that there are monsters hiding everywhere beneath the reasonable and rational, and Kepler’s book makes for a satisfying and scary testimonial.