Book Title: The Sandman
Author: Lars Kepler (Pseudonym)
Series: Joona Linna #4
Genres: Nordic Noir, Police Procedural, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Crime Fiction
Pub Date: 3/6/18
Late one night, outside Stockholm, Mikael Kohler-Frost is found wandering. Thirteen years earlier, he went missing along with his younger sister. They were long thought to have been victims of Sweden’s most notorious serial killer, Jurek Walter, now serving a life sentence in a maximum security psychiatric hospital. Now Mikael tells the police that his sister is still alive and being held by someone he knows only as the Sandman. Years ago, Detective Inspector Joona Linna made an excruciating personal sacrifice to ensure Jurek’s capture. He is keenly aware of what this killer is capable of, and now he is certain that Jurek has an accomplice. He knows that any chance of rescuing Mikael’s sister depends on getting Jurek to talk, and that the only agent capable of this is Inspector Saga Bauer, a twenty-seven-year-old prodigy. She will have to go under deep cover in the psychiatric ward where Jurek is imprisoned, and she will have to find a way to get to the psychopath before it’s too late–and before he gets inside her head.
Unless you’ve been living in a bunker for the past few months, you’ve likely seen the hype surrounding Lars Kepler’s novel The Sandman. While this is technically the fourth book in the Joona Linna series, it’s easily read as a standalone, and if you are going to break out of order I can’t think of a better one to do so with than this. The novel was released while I was in the middle of a major reading slump, so I was nervous to pick it up in the midst of my disappointment of many 2018 hyped books, which is why I waited so long to pick this up. I’ve also become EXTREMELY weary of the majorly marketed novels of late; it seems my expectations are never in the right place and I always end up feeling underwhelmed, but that was not the case here. While my expectations were high, there was not even the tiniest tinge of disappointment upon finishing this one-yes, it’s THAT good.
“Mikael stands up in the darkness when the Sandman blows his terrible dust into the room. He’s learned that there’s no point holding your breath; when the Sandman wants the children to sleep, they fall asleep.”
This book was terrifying. I know what you’re thinking about, how I read dark fiction almost exclusively, but out of all the gory, violent, and disturbing things I’ve read, this one is very near the top. There are some violent scenes, and those primarily take place in the portions where Saga Bauer (seriously, coolest name and character ever???) is undercover in the high security psychiatric ward, but the descriptions of what some of the victims have gone through are what really unnerves the reader. As a parent, this novel brought all my worst fears to the forefront of my mind and forced me to deal with thoughts I’ve never allowed myself to entertain. The fact that the author duo paints such a realistic picture made it all the more horrifying.
If you’ve read anything in the scandi noir genre, you realize what sets the good ones apart from the less desirables are the characters. This is a tough genre to succeed in, as the writer has to develop just the right amount of atmosphere, characterization, and plot, usually pertaining to a criminal case of sorts. If the writer focuses too heavily on the atmosphere, it can seem too slow for the reader to maintain momentum. Too much plot and the reader doesn’t feel connected to the characters, resulting in a lack of continuing the series. I think husband and wife duo Lars Kepler have found that perfect balance, and mainly because they have rotated around some reoccurring characters to not only keep things fresh, but also to give us a chance to focus on one or two characters a bit more in each book. I also appreciate that, while past plot devices are referenced in this book, there are no outright spoilers to keep me from reading the previous novels, which also heightened my interest in reading all things Joona Linna as quickly as I can.
The plot was incredibly fast paced, which I found unique and surprising for crime fiction set in Sweden. This was a pleasant surprise, and I could not believe my luck in picking up a novel of almost 500 pages that I read in less than 48 hours. The chapters are short, brief snippets that make it impossible to stop turning the pages. Just one more chapter, then I’ll stop… Right? Riiight. I also adored that we receive multiple POV’s that give us different scenes, but also different views from the same scene. This was done without feeling repetitive and only ramped up the compulsive nature of the story. The suspense was purely taut tension; it began immediately and I found myself holding my breath more than once while waiting for the other shoe to drop. Everything about this novel was perfection, and I can’t emphasize enough how thoroughly I enjoyed every aspect of this story!
If you’re not a fan of unsettling stories on multiple levels, this one won’t be for you and I would suggest a hard pass. If you do, however, enjoy gritty, dark, hard-boiled crime fiction, this is a must read. Seriously, clear your reading schedule and move this to the forefront, because it’s worthy of cutting in line for. <— I am a rule follower so it is very rare that I will suggest this. 😉 Highly recommended, and I’m really excited to go back to the beginning and read the new and updated translation of The Hypnotist that’s being published July 31!
*I received a review copy via the publisher.