The Fire Witness – Lars Kepler

Setting: Birgittagarden, a state approved home for troubled girls, north of Sundsvall, Sweden.

Story: One of the girls is found murdered, bludgeoned to death, with her body rearranged so that her hands cover her eyes. The same night, a member of staff is also killed, and one of the other girls – in whose bed the murder weapon is found – goes on the run. Detective Inspector Joona Linna doesn’t think it’s as straightforward as it looks as the hunt for the fugitive girl heats up. Meantime, there’s a psychic trying to tell the police, she has had a message from beyond about the crime.

Good Stuff: If you read the books in order (see the note at the end) this is evidence of the growing talent of the authorial team. Again, they deliver a page turner, with fine flourishes of action, and some nifty red herrings sprinkled about the plot. Linna is a fine main character, and his performance here is heightened by a developing story that will run into the next novel in the series.

Not So Good Stuff: While the action and the pace and the general quality are increased, I felt the subsidiary characters got a raw deal. Apart from the troubled medium, you are almost in the land of cardboard cutouts. However, to balance that, the story did not need more in the way of such support and such extra detail may have turned it into a longer book than it needed to be.

Score: 8.5/10

Note: This is the third of the four in the series. In order, – with links to my reviews – they are: The Hypnotist, The Nightmare, The Fire Witness, and The Sandman. I did not read them in order, and that has not materially altered my enjoyment. However, especially between the last two books, it would have been better. In short, read them in order if you can.

The Nightmare – Lars Kepler

Setting: Stockholm, Sweden. (Yes, Again. I may have to visit, someday.)

Story: The police discover the body of a young woman who has, apparently, drowned. But she is on an abandoned boat. Her two companions are missing. What’s going on? Separately, the police discover the body of a senior civil servant, hanging in his apartment. He has apparently committed suicide. How did his housekeeper know in advance? Although he shouldn’t be doing it, Detective Inspector Joona Linna gets involved in sorting out fact from theory, as a deadly assassin seeks to kill the people who actually know the answers.

Good Stuff: Another page turner that, once it got going about halfway on, kept me awake until I had finished. The bringing together of the various strands is nimbly done, and there’s a decent spread of well drawn characters. (For example, Penelope, the committed peace activist, Alex, the troubled former violinist, and Saga, Linna’s foil on the police, are solid pieces of work.) Linna is a powerful character, and his presence acts as a great spark for some interesting encounters.  The action scenes are tense and exciting. The nightmare of the book title is one that you slowly understand, and it’s an unpleasant dose of evil that has been hidden behind the plot’s early development. That plot is well designed, well unwrapped, and not too fanciful. There are more than enough twists, and the whole package is generally top notch.

Not So Good Stuff: The message from the author – about an evil afoot in the modern world – is a little bit heavy handed. I would have edited out more of it, as the point is made with plenty of text to spare. Linna’s character comes dangerously close to a super powered hero, at times. That stretches the credulity of the reader, though not to breaking point.

Score: 8/10

Note: This is the second of the four in the series (so far). In order, – with links to my reviews – they are: The Hypnotist, The Nightmare, The Fire Witness, and The Sandman. You can tell I am not reading them in order, and that has not materially altered my enjoyment.

The Sandman – Lars Kepler

Setting: Stockholm, Sweden. (Yes, Again.)

Story: There’s a very dangerous man – serial killer Jurek Walter – locked up, on his own, in a secure psychiatric facility. One of the people believed to have been a victim (but never found) suddenly appears after seven years. He has been drugged, is babbling, suffering from hypothermia, and Legionnaires’ disease. Where’s he been? Where is his sister, believed taken at the same time? Might there be other victims still alive? In a combined effort, the police reopen their old files and send an undercover policewoman in to the unit, disguised as a patient, to try and get more information from Jurek Walter. Detective Inspector Joona Linna leads the investigation in a desperate race against time.

Good Stuff: It’s a page turner. There are some terrifying moments. When it gets going, it truly hurtles along, and it gets going fairly early on. The back story and the unwinding of the plot are expertly done. The final twist is intriguing.

Not So Good Stuff: There’s a lot of mystery and threat in the idea of the Sandman silently taking away people in the night. However, there is no explanation ever given for how it is done. You just have to accept it. The character sketching is, er, sketchy. This may be because there are other earlier books in the series that fill in the details, but I would have liked to have seen a bit more character development, or time spent on the people rather than the action. Just a little…

Score: 7/10