Written by Lars Kepler — If your perception of Nordic noir is of troubled detectives who can’t relate to people at work or at home, who are giving in to alcoholism and as cold inside as the climate they inhabit, then the Joona Linna series, now in its fourth instalment, might just be a breath of fresh air. At first glance, Detective Inspector Linna could easily be another facsimile of Harry Hole or Detective Erlendur. He’s charismatic, a little bit of a loose canon but tolerated by the bosses because he gets results, and haunted by a past case.
In The Sandman, it is this past which Linna is forced to confront. At the beginning of his detective career, he and his partner were given a missing persons case. The two children of a successful author had gone missing whilst playing by a river and were never seen again. Officially they’d drowned but Linna, on a hunch, suspected foul play. His team discovered a pattern of people going missing, and then months later their relatives or lovers would kill themselves.
There was nothing to link the missing people but Linna became convinced that Sweden had an undiscovered serial killer. The conviction became an obsession and the two detectives continued to work the case after it was officially closed. Their hard work paid off when they followed a man who appeared to be stalking the relative of another missing person. Horrific evidence of the man’s guilt led to a jail sentence, but compelling evidence of mental illness meant Jurek Walter was sent to a maximum security psychiatric facility rather than prison. After sentencing he made a promise to both detectives that somebody they loved would disappear and that they would kill themselves. Linna takes the threat so seriously, and not without good reason, that he fakes the death of his family and resolves to never contact them again. To all intents and purposes he is bereft.
Now, many years later, the son of the writer is discovered, confused and almost dead from hypothermia, wandering lost in the Swedish countryside. A race against time to find his sister begins. But the boy cannot help them, and Linna’s only hope is to trick Jurek Walter into disclosing where she is held captive.
Where Linna deviates from the Nordic archetype is the absence of an internal life. I was disappointed to discover that the authors – for Lars Kepler is the writing duo Alexander Ahndoril and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril – have no real interest in exploring how Linna had been affected by his past. There is no real examination of the hurt, anger and guilt that their protagonist must surely feel. Doesn’t he resent the organisation he works for, which demands such sacrifices. Linna’s absence from large parts of the narrative was also disconcerting and added to the feeling that he’s an underdeveloped character – something which I can’t help feeling should not be happening in the fourth book of a series.
The chapter count – 183 for nearly 500 pages – is some indication perhaps of the type of book it is and the audience it is searching for. We are in Lee Child territory, which isn’t a bad thing, and the book’s strengths are the plotting and action. The cat and mouse scenes between the undercover officer sent into the institution, the psychopathic consultant, and the violent patients – are a particular highlight. Indeed, the book might make a great movie. So, whilst this was not what I expected as I started reading, and there are certainly weaknesses, The Sandman is an uneven but enjoyable thriller.
The Sandman is out on 28 August.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars