Short version: THE NIGHTMARE is one of those books that is so good, you never want it to end.
Long version: Lars Kepler is the pen name for the Swedish husband and wife writing team of Alexander Ahndoril and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril. Both have had works published separately, but have attracted particular attention worldwide with THE HYPNOTIST, their debut novel that introduced Swedish police investigator Joona Linna. THE NIGHTMARE is Kepler’s sophomore effort (a third installment has already been published in Sweden), and it is even better than its predecessor. Unforgettable characters dip and swirl through a complex and chilling plot, which in turn is loaded with suspense and action. There is something for everyone here.
"Kepler utilizes the present tense narration to great effect in this seamless collaboration that takes the complex and makes it comprehensible while providing a fast-paced and wild ride. THE NIGHTMARE is one book that surely will be a candidate for “best of” lists at the end of the year."
Linna is the smartest person in the room at any given point, a legend within his own department, to the consternation of some and the adoration of others. So it is that his skills and talents are in demand for the more bizarre law enforcement investigations, those that match the DLR (Don’t Look Right) criteria. Two of those are introduced within the first few chapters of THE NIGHTMARE. The first involves the discovery of the body of a young woman, sitting dead in the cabin of a yacht. Her lungs are filled with water, yet her clothes and body are dry. The reader knows a little, but certainly not all, of how this came to be, and witnessing how Linna puts things together is worth the price of admission all by itself.
The second concerns an apparent suicide by hanging. The dead man, who holds an important position in a Swedish oversight committee, is found in the middle of his living room, hanging from a high beam. The question is raised as to how he got there. Linna figures it out, but something still is not right. And when the investigation into the young woman’s death slowly but inexorably intersects with the lonely suicide, things become quite interesting.
Did I say interesting? Wrong word. Try riveting, astonishing, whatever adjectives you wish to use. Everyone in the book is just a little off, and when they all start bouncing against each other, the results are anything but predictable. Linna himself is an odd duck, seemingly uncomfortable with personal relationships that involve anything other than figuring out the perplexing puzzles that involve his work, but by no means is he the book’s only offbeat character. There is a retired television host who is as mad as a peach orchard boar, a relentless killer who is pursuing a pain-in-the-rear pacifist, and a failed musician who improbably supplies the key to the whole puzzle (and who is involved in a very strange relationship with a 15-year-old girl). By no means is that an exhaustive list. By the time you finish reading the novel, you will be exhausted, though satisfyingly so, and wishing for another 400 pages, not least because of the teases provided in the closing paragraphs.
Kepler utilizes the present tense narration to great effect in this seamless collaboration that takes the complex and makes it comprehensible while providing a fast-paced and wild ride. THE NIGHTMARE is one book that surely will be a candidate for “best of” lists at the end of the year.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 6, 2012