Tuesday , April 23 2024
A talk with the couple who wrote a "Nordic noir" thriller under the pen name Lars Kepler.

An Interview with Lars Kepler, Author of The Hypnotist

I have to admit I was getting, for a time, a bit burned out on what one publicist has dubbed “Nordic noir.” I devoured and loved Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy and liked the books of James Thompson, interviewed here at Blogcritics, but when I saw the publicity and hype for Lars Kepler and Ann Long’s The Hypnotist, I was a bit hesitant at first. Did I want to read another book full of dark moods and violence and perhaps sex, all seeming prerequisites for this genre?

But after reading pieces praising the book -and intrigued by the fact that this book was written by two more traditional authors under a pen name, as they discussed in an interview — I arranged for this interview of my own with this couple.

The Hypnotist lives up to the hype, in my opinion. It is indeed dark and, of course, full of gore as per the genre. It also has some surprise twists.

Then I waited for their interview answers to come in… And then the madness in Norway happened Friday, the crazed man who killed (after recent revision by Norwegian police) 76 people. Suddenly, I was rethinking one of my questions asking why this genre has so much violence in a region not known for its violence, not knowing at that point if this man was lying or not about having others working in tandem.

Fortunately the authors allude to this violence in their interview saving me from having to ask an awkward follow-up question and so far it appears the killer did indeed act alone.

And with that let’s get to the interview itself…

First, how would you describe the protagonists in this book, the first in a series: Joona Linna and Dr. Erik Maria Bark? Will both characters return in the later books or just the police investigator?

The stubborn Detective Inspector Joona Linna is a hero with a mysterious past. He is the most important character to us, because he works as a guarantee for us when we write. We’re pretty sure that he will solve the case, stop the perpetrator and find out the riddle. We wouldn’t dare to write about what scares us the most if we didn’t have him.

Joona is the main character for the whole series, but Erik is the main character of our debut. Erik will not return even though we like him a lot, he’s special to us, maybe because he’s both weak and strong, he reminds us about the fact that we all are combinations of good and bad sides.

There’s been a lot of media attention on what some have called “Nordic noir.” I’d be curious as to your thoughts of these authors who have gotten some attention: Stieg Larsson, James Thompson and Jo Nesbro? Why do you think so many of those authors, as well as your own book, have so much violence? Or is that an aspect of Swedish and Nordic culture?

 Extreme and horrible violence is one of humanity’s contributions to the world, even though it hurts to admit it. See the news. Reality is partly incredibly frightening. It came very close just now with the hideous and so tragic events in Norway.

To us crime fiction is an optimistic genre – everything will turn out in a good way in the end.

We write about what scares us the most, in a way we all want to be scared, but only because we’re safe, we know that our detective inspector Joona Linna will solve the case, stop the perpetrator and find out the riddle. That will not happen in reality, unfortunately.

Two related questions: To what do you attribute the popularity of this genre and what do you think this is doing as far as possible perceptions and misperceptions people might have about that region? Put another way, might not one come away thinking there’s a lot more serial killing going on than there really is?

The popularity is about making the world understandable for a moment. It’s a kind of safe thrill – like a rollercoaster. No duty, no diet, no hard labor – just pleasure.

Fiction has its focus on serial killers because it works in fiction – the real series of killings in the world is of course connected to domestic violence. We believe that writers and readers work through the fear of all kind of violence via crime fiction together.

How did you come to write a thriller? How was writing this different from their usual more “literary” books?

It’s just a pleasure to write thrillers, like watching an exiting movie but staying in control (most of the time). It’s of course extra enjoyable to write together as husband and wife.  When we write more literary books it’s more a kind of contemplative searching for feelings and moods.

According to the publicity material that came with this book you guys decided to create an entire identity for Lars Kepler. Why did you do that?

It just followed with the name. As soon as we came up with the name Lars Kepler we made a picture of him (photo shop) and soon we had a biography and new habits to handle.

Does Lars Kepler mean something? I think I read that Lars is an homage of sort to Stieg Larsson.

Yes, Kepler after Johannes Kepler, and Lars after Stieg LARSson,

That press release also describes the unveiling of you two as the authors as the result of a “manhunt” — what was that like, both to be subject of a manhunt and then to be unmasked? Why did you feel the need to create this pseudonym in the first place?

To us it was necessary to create a new writer to be able to work together. We wanted to stay secret forever – so the manhunt was a bit scary, really crazy and even sometimes funny (we laughed actually a lot). All the major newspapers were involved and almost the whole nation … we didn’t have a chance.

Why did you two make the decision to circle around, at least for the first part of the book, some events from various people’s perspectives, sort of a literary version of Rashomon, versus just moving ahead with the plot in a more traditional manner?

We thought it was exciting with more than one main character and the possibility to cross cut the intrigue is really an effective way to tell a fast story without losing complexity.

Did the Swedish language, culture or customs influence the writing? I ask because Larsson had suggested his books were influenced by Pippi Longstalking and  Wallender’s books focused on the lonely landscapes.

Maybe we bring with us the Swedish gender equality (and not only the Swedish sin) and certainly the Swedish way to criticize our own society (we’re not a nationalistic people even though we love our country).

What’s next for you guys and this series? Book #2 is already out over there, right? What book are you working on now? Can you give a pitch as far as what readers can expect in books 2 and 3? Also can you talk about what it’s like to have this book turned into a movie (it must be weird to see a visualization of your written words) and the status of that?

Right now we’re writing the end of the third book about Joona Linna. In the north of Sweden there’s an institution for girls with destructive behavior. One morning a girl is found killed in solitary confinement. No one has seen anything, but someone starts to tell.

The second book was out in Sweden last summer and is about to be published all over the world right now and it’s about a special kind of contract. A Paganini contract. Do not ever sign such a contract, because you can’t break it even with your own death.

The wonderful director Lasse Hallström starts shooting The Hypnotist January 2012 and were just excited.

I’ve read that you won’t let your three kids read these books but that you mined the territory of parents and their fears about their children for this book. Can you elaborate on how you chose that topic?

If you’re going to write a thriller you must scare yourself and we started to write about what scares us the most. We used our own apartment for the setting, but have now moved to a new (it felt better). Our children are way too young to read books like this even though our books have happy endings. The family in The Hypnotist has to fight to survive — but that’s okay when it ends happily.

I’ll end with what I call my bonus question: What question did you wish interviewers would ask that you don’t ask: This is your chance to both ask it and answer it.

Your questions were just fine, thank you.

About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been working in mental health for the last ten years. He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.

Check Also

Mystery Game Review: ‘The Night Hunter’ from University Games

Players must unravel the mystery before a serial killer claims another victim.