The haunted house. Those few words written on a piece of paper have the power to transport him back to the past, to the time when he was still involved with hypnosis. He knows that against his will he must walk up to a dark mirror and try to see what is hiding there, behind the reflections created by all the time that has passed. (p.267)
Lars Kepler -- inevitably compared to Stieg Larsson, and suffering by that comparison because this is a very different flavour of crime novel -- is the pseudonym of two authors of literary fiction: Alexandra and Alexander Ahndoril, who are married. The dual authorship might account for some of the unevenness of the story, and perhaps for the sense that it doesn't quite gel.
Inspector Joona Linna is the brilliant but unconventional star of the National Criminal Investigation Department. When a murderer kills the entire Ek family, save for the gravely injured teenaged Josef, Linna calls on disgraced hypnotist Erik Maria Bark to help bring the boy out of his mute horror and uncover the truth of the murderer's identity. For, it turns out, there's also an estranged sister, and surely she's the next target ...
The Hypnotist is a long and many-layered novel, wintry in setting and equally bleak in tone. On one level it felt to me like an anti-Larsson: the women in this novel are all mad, or violent, or powerless. (Or some combination of the above.) Bark's wife is on the verge of separating from him; Joona Linna is attractive to women (including his ex-wife), but disappoints them all by making his work his first priority. The estranged sister is haunted by old pain. Bark's career as a hypnotist was destroyed by a woman. Bark's son Benjamin, who suffers from a disease of the blood that requires regular medication, forms a relationship with a young girl, Aida, who's extraordinarily unhelpful when he vanishes.
One doesn't expect the characters in a grim wintry crime novel to be cracking jokes or enjoying their lives, but it seems to me there is an utter lack of happiness, good cheer, hope or joy in The Hypnotist. Even before the murder of Josef Ek's family and the subsequent events, none of the characters seems to have been happy: even after the end of the novel, one can't imagine any of them rejoicing. Is this simply Scandinavian seasonal gloom?
There are a couple of plot elements that I simply don't find credible. (People are in intensive care because they're on the brink of death: they're unlikely to unhook themselves and go wandering around the city. Simone's double standards verge on the ridiculous.)
A compelling read, because I did want to know what had happened and why, and who was who: but not, in the end, a satisfactory one.