“You don’t become a serial killer for no reason”: the Swedish duo (The Fire Witness, 2013, etc.) who write under a single pseudonym return, and it isn’t pretty.
Leading the cast in the fourth novel in the series devoted to him, the smart, steely detective Joona Linna is sure that the psycho he helped put away is still conducting awful business behind bars. When a starved young man is spotted atop a railroad bridge, having escaped from captivity at the hands of yet another psycho—“the Sandman took us,” he says to police, meaningfully—Linna puts two and two together. That’s not easy: the imprisoned bad guy, Jurek Walter, has a knack for whispering sweet nothings into the ears of anyone who will listen, programming them for mayhem, so much so that his jailers and psychiatrists wear earplugs in his presence. (So much for talk therapy.) Linna, who has searched every conceivable database to try to find out who Walter really is, tries a risky gambit: he sends his colleague, young detective Saga Bauer, into the lion’s den to try to ferret out information about his victims and accomplices, for Linna is sure that Walter is not acting alone. He’s not, though learning the eventual identity of the aforementioned Sandman may carry a whiff of red herring gone bad. Saga has to tough out some very unpleasant behavior while undercover inside the stir—“The girl has a dozen knife wounds to her chest, deep cuts into her lungs and heart,” Kepler writes of one inmate who gets in Walter’s way—even as Linna solves the mystery. Writing, as always, in short chapters, most just a couple of pages in length, and in telegraphic sentences, Kepler builds a story whose pace is occasionally off but that resolves in a satisfactory if blood-soaked manner. The yarn isn’t as spine-tingling as, say, Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman or as action-packed as Stieg Larsson’s original Millennium trilogy, but as Swedish mysteries go, it does the trick.
Fans of Kepler's detective won’t be disappointed.