Vanity Fair’s Next Stieg Larsson: Where’s Lars Kepler?

The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler
The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler
The VF Daily blog at Vanity Fair has a pithy summary by Christopher Tennant of the candidates for the title of “Next Stieg Larsson,” a creeping phrase against which crime fans have had to innoculate ourselves this year.

(See Leslie Elman’s terrific article on Camilla Lackberg, vis-a-vis being the NSL, and related items under the tag Nordic Invasion.)

Five authors are compared across the categories of grizzled-ness of protagonist, gloominess of setting, the sales statistics most cited in their PR, adaptations for film and television, and the money quotes pronouncing their coronation as the “Next Stieg Larsson.”

Well, I have a small quibble with the list and a larger one. The article’s titled Stockholm Syndrome, and 2 of the 5 authors aren’t Swedish.  Jo Nesbo fights as the crime champ of Norway, and the excellent Arnaldur Indridason slings his words from Iceland.  But, tiny nit now picked:

Where is Lars Kepler? Granted, the author’s debut, The Hypnotist, is just coming out in the U.S. this month, but early copies have been circulating, and it’s already been a bestseller in France, Germany, Denmark, Italy, Spain, and Holland. I’m  jumping ahead in the categories, I know, but the novel was such a sensation that the clamor around its pseudonymous author finally outed married couple Alexander and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril as its writers.  And what about the rest of the criteria?

Detective Inspector Joona Linna isn’t so much grizzled as haunted, but close enough.  The crime occurs in Tumba, Sweden.  Bonus for snowfall at night as, in the opening scenes, the titular and reluctant hypnotist, Dr. Erik Maria Bark, drives to the hospital to see a shredded boy, the only survivor of a violent attack that eviscerated his father, his mother, and the younger of his sisters. Seems properly exploratory of the darker side of human nature.  As to adaptations, Svensk Studio bought the option and is making the movie, and the very question of being the NSL is bandied in The Independent’s review by Barry Forshaw, which says:

The sobriquet “the next Stieg Larsson” is again being thrown about in connection with Lars Kepler. But can Lars cut the mustard? Just a few pages of The Hypnotist (in Ann Long’s translation) quickly puts paid to the accusation of hype; this is commanding, and deeply scarifying stuff.

I’m only partway through the advance copy myself, but I have to say, from the first few paragraphs, this one grabbed hold and started dragging me under.  I’m not coming up for air until I’m through with it.  Though the slick plot moves quickly, there are plenty of human grace notes. Linna isn’t a robot, and there’s a use of descriptive language that’s as poetic as economical. Extra gruesome, well perhaps, but elegantly done, and that only makes The Hypnotist more chilling.

I think this list of the “Stockholm” 5 ought to be the Scandinavian 6.

Lars Kepler aka Alexander and Alesandra Ahndoril
Lars Kepler aka Alexander and Alexandra Ahndoril: Darling, do YOU Think We’re the Next Stieg Larsson?


Image via Nordic Bookblog.


  1. Maxine

    I hate all this “Stieg Larsson” and similar hype and stickers that appear all over the place – but lots has been written about that among the international crime-fiction reading community! be that as it may, I did not think much of The Hypnotist. There are much better Swedish novels – as well as the ones you mention, series by Helene Tursten (not all translated sadly), Asa Larsson, Liza Marklund and so on. And there are great novels coming out of the rest of Scandinavia as well – I was very impressed with Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen (Denmark) which will be out soon in the US with the title Keeper of Lost Causes. Oodles better than The Hypnotist in my view.

  2. Norman Price

    This “Next Stieg Larsson” nonsense has been picked up by main stream media journalists so late in the day it is laughable. Using the title Stockholm Syndrome for an article, how inventive!
    Here is a link to my post from back in 2006 discussing Swedish crime fiction entitled Stockholm Syndrome. The MSM reviewers need to differentiate between writers jumping on the bandwagon, and the top quality crime fiction mentioned by Maxine above. You can add the superb Karin Alvtegen to Maxine’s list
    When prize winning writers Hakan Nesser, Arnaldur Indridason and Jo Nesbo, whose success preceded Stieg Larsson, are described as the next anything it is a combination of ignorance and lazy marketing.
    What next an “If you liked Stieg Larsson you’ll love this…if you don’t mind a bit of singing” sticker at the Royal Opera House for performances of Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera. Well one version is set in Sweden.
    Or “If you liked The Killing you’ll love this” on posters for Hamlet. Danish get it.

  3. Maxine

    Very much agree, Norman. Just to note, Karin Alvtegen is a brilliant Swedish author and one of my favourites, how could I have not mentioned her? For example, her Missing could be compared to The Girl Who Played With Fire (;-) ) as it covers similar themes but is in my opinion better and certainly a lot shorter and more focused. Karin A’s other 3 books (that are available and translated) are all very different – Shadow is absolutely superb and Betrayal a brilliantly creepily paranoid dissection of a marriage.

  4. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    I just finished Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason, which I liked a lot. Now I’m reading an advance copy of his Operation Napoleon, a 1999 thriller that will be released in the U.S. later this year. There’s tons of fantastic Scandinavian/Nordic fiction in and out of the mystery/thriller arena, and I agree that it’s discouraging when every review of a Nordic novel begins with: “If you like Stieg Larsson…”

    Now at the risk of shamless self-promotion, may I direct you to another post on this subject? 🙂

  5. Clare 2e

    Maxine and Norman-

    The NSL tag-line has become a relentless drumbeat that’s finally gone so far it makes me laugh. People aren’t even using “from the land of,” they’re just jumping in with regent’s crowns, hoping their favorite or their client will become an Anglicized blockbuster. What’s really funny is that all of these have already sold oodles, even millions of copies, especially when considering longer-running series, and a few of these started publishing before or concurrently with Stieg Larsson, and may even have inspired him.

    I hear fabulous things about Hakan Nesser’s books, though I’ve never read one (yet). However, I guess I’m thinking about The Hypnotist as a mainstream, commercial thriller, and I think this grabby novel might ring the tills in that area. I’m delighted to have more tips from the widely read on great Scandinavian authors!

    Leslie- look at the link in the top of the post : )

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