A woman receives a new book to read...
Fiction: Stalker, Lars Kepler, Harper Collins, hdbk, 528 pages, €19.95
A woman receives a new book. She notices that it is the latest thriller from Lars Kepler, pseudonym for husband and wife team Alexander and Alexandra Ahndoril who together write a crime series based on the investigations of Finnish-Swedish detective Joona Linna.
She knows what this means. It will be written in the present tense, a rather pretentious device that is increasingly popular among authors wishing to heighten the urgency and immediacy of their writing.
Stories told in the past tense have already happened; the reader is only a spectator. Stories told in the present tense are happening right now. There's a still a chance that the police might prevent bad things happening if they hurry, hurry, hurry. That's the theory, anyway.
The woman is not overly fond of present-tense narratives, but there are so many of them now, it's pointless to resist. She opens the book and begins to read…
Linna takes a while to appear, because he's presumed dead when the novel begins. Of course, we know that he isn't, because good detectives never die, they just keep popping up again in an endless series of sequels. Especially if, like Linna, they're unconventional mavericks with a troubled past, in the usual mould. His first outing, The Hypnotist, began with a phone call to a forensic psychiatrist called Erik Maria Bark, whose help was needed to recover the memories of a traumatised child who'd just witnessed his parents' murder. Bark's back in this fifth instalment of the series, too, as he is called in to, well, recover the memories of a traumatised man whose wife has just been murdered.
Susanna is the second victim of a serial killer in Stockholm who takes voyeuristic videos of the unknowing victim moments before the murder and then uploads them onto YouTube.
This latest series of murders is being investigated by Margot Silverman, the National Police Authority's expert on serial killers, spree killers and stalkers, but naturally she still needs Linna's help to do it, because this is his series, not hers.
Thankfully, Saga, a police officer who shot a different serial killer who targeted Linna in a previous book - do keep up, there's plenty of back story to process when there's such a large cast of recurring characters - has a hunch where he is, and sets about tracking him down. Which she does. With suspicious ease.
Sweden's not that small, is it?
Soon, there's a third murder, and we're plunged deep into familiar 'Scandinavian noir' territory, a dark, gloomy world where no one is ever who they seem to be and you're no one until some creepy psychopath has personally targeted you and your family for slaughter.
The first-person technique is actually rather effective in this book, because it almost makes the reader feel like a voyeur, too, watching in real time as women are stalked and murdered; but is that really a compliment, or just another new convention of the genre? This lingering on dead and naked women is frequently disturbing in itself, and no amount of background musings on "obsession-fixation syndrome" or "narcissistic personality disorder" compensates for the slightly dirty feeling with which one is left after being served up visceral savagery as entertainment.
The book is long, but the telling remains tight and well-controlled throughout, with short chapters adding to the tension, and an exciting finale in the obligatory "nutter's den".
The solution stretches plausibility, though it's impossible to explain why without giving away spoilers; but Stalker will satisfy die-hard fans who have already snapped up nine million copies of the series in 20 countries, and who, the woman thinks as she closes the book, is she to argue with sales figures like that?