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The Sandman


The Sandman

About three-quarters of the way through THE SANDMAN, there is a wondrous passage (in a book full of them) that uses trap nets and lobster pots as a metaphor for bad decisions leading irrevocably to disastrous actions. As much as I wanted to gallop through the last hundred pages in the same manner as I had the previous 300, I had to stop and dwell for a few minutes on the perfection of it and what had gone before. It was stunning, as is the plot and prose of this unforgettable thriller.

THE SANDMAN is the fourth installment in Lars Kepler’s series featuring Joona Linna, the taciturn Stockholm detective inspector. Many of you (but, I dare say, perhaps not enough of you) are familiar with the first three volumes: THE HYPNOTIST, THE NIGHTMARE and THE FIRE WITNESS. This trio will be republished over the next year or so with new translations (thanks to the extraordinary efforts of Neil Smith). But please do not wait to read this latest offering. Kepler does an excellent job of bringing newcomers into the tent while refreshing fans’ recollections. In any event, you don’t want to delay or deny yourself one of the best reading experiences of 2018.

"[T]he reader isn’t drawn into the story so much as given to running into it, voluntarily and with abandon.... THE SANDMAN is complete in itself, but anyone who reads it will be sitting on tenterhooks, waiting for the next installment..."

The novel commences in the middle of a precipitous railroad bridge during a nighttime snowstorm. It is there that a young man named Mikael Kohler-Frost is found, wandering and hysterical. The discovery would be unusual enough, but is made more so by the fact that Mikael and his sister, Felicia, had been missing for 13 years and was declared dead. Mikael, who is in the throes of delirium and is all but incoherent, insists that his sister is still alive and is being held captive by someone called the Sandman. Mikael’s allegations are of particular interest to Joona. It was he who, years ago after making a major personal sacrifice, caught Jurek Walter, Sweden’s most notorious serial killer. Jurek, who is permanently ensconced in a maximum security psychiatric hospital, was thought to have numbered Mikael and Felicia among his many victims. Linna was sure that Jurek had an accomplice in his dastardly work, but was never able to prove it.

Mikael’s reappearance changes everything. Linna is more certain than ever that Jurek had help, and that if Felicia is ever to be rescued, Jurek has to be persuaded --- or tricked --- into revealing her whereabouts and that of his accomplice. Linna concocts a daring plan to insert an undercover agent into the psychiatric ward where Jurek is imprisoned and to somehow gain his trust. It is the execution of this plan and its aftermath that unfolds during most of the book’s second half, and the suspense is nothing less than excruciating. The agent selected is Saga Bauer, a quietly damaged inspector who is tapped for the job --- and accepts it --- at the worst possible time for her. She finds herself under siege on the ward from adversaries expected and otherwise.

The most dangerous, of course, is Jurek, who is as frightening and nightmarish a character as you are likely to encounter in a book in quite a while. On the one hand, he is almost too much to take. On the other, it is nearly impossible to stop reading THE SANDMAN at any particular point. It’s not that there’s no good place to set aside the novel; it’s that there is practically no way to do that. Kepler keeps things moving with short chapters and frequent changes in points of view. As a result, the reader isn’t drawn into the story so much as given to running into it, voluntarily and with abandon. There are many ticking clocks, as Linna and his team set out to rescue Felicia, Bauer tries to save herself, and Jurek does what Jurek does best. Remember the trap nets and lobster pots I mentioned at the beginning of this review? Anyone who starts reading the book will identify with the lobster, particularly during the multiple conclusions that speed the reader toward the final paragraphs.

Ah, those final paragraphs. THE SANDMAN is complete in itself, but anyone who reads it will be sitting on tenterhooks, waiting for the next installment (which already has been published in Sweden). Get the first three books in their new editions and read them while you are waiting. It won’t pass the time entirely, but it will help.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 8, 2018

The Sandman
by Lars Kepler

  • Publication Date: March 6, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • ISBN-10: 1524732249
  • ISBN-13: 9781524732240