Stalker by Lars Kepler (tr. Neil Smith) #BookReview #BlogTour

The internationally bestselling authors of The Sandman and The Hypnotist return with a terrifying new thriller: Detective Joona Linna--recently returned from compassionate leave--reunites with hypnotist Erik Maria Bark in a search for a seemingly unassailable sadistic killer. 
The Swedish National Crime Unit receives a video of a young woman in her home, clearly unaware that she's being watched. Soon after the tape is received, the woman's body is found horrifically mutilated. With the arrival of the next, similar video, the police understand that the killer is toying with them, warning of a new victim, knowing there's nothing they can do. Detective Margot Silverman is put in charge of the investigation, and soon asks Detective Joona Linna for help. Linna, in turn, recruits Erik Maria Bark, the hypnotist and expert in trauma, with whom Linna's worked before. Bark is leery of forcing people to give up their secrets. But this time, Bark is the one hiding things. 
Years before, he had put a man away for an eerily similar crime, and now he's beginning to think that an innocent man may be behind bars--and a serial killer still on the loose. . . 

I'm honoured to be closing the blog tour for Stalker by Lars Kepler today, along with Lainy over at So Many Books, So Little Time. Many thanks to the authors and Abby Endler from Knopf Publicity for inviting me and for the advance copy of the novel which I received through NetGalley.

The opening to Stalker is immediately engrossing; there's something so terrifying about a murderer who presents their chosen victim to the police before a body is discovered. The Swedish National Crime Unit have the unnerving experience of watching a video of a woman going about her business in her own home oblivious to the fact that she's being recorded but they know she is going to be viciously murdered and there's nothing they can do to prevent it happening. Detective Margot Silverman is the police expert on serial killers, spree killers and stalkers and has been put in charge of the case - the first since her appointment - and when a second video arrives she immediately recognises they are looking for a serial killer. The first few chapters of the book are completely gripping; the police's horror as they watch the new video is almost palpable as they realise they aren't going to be able to save her and then the perspective switches to that of the woman whose death is inevitable but nonetheless still shocking when it comes. I was initially a little concerned when the pace slowed after such a fabulous start but the riveting character-building here meant any worries I had were short-lived and before long I knew this was going to be one of those books I couldn't put down.
Much of the novel is written in the third person, present tense which creates a real feeling of immediacy to the proceedings and makes the reader feel as much an observer to the horrific crimes as the police are whenever a new video is posted. I found it absolutely intriguing that Joona Linna doesn't appear in person until several chapters into the book and when he does, it's clear that he is quite possibly as damaged as some of the criminals he brings to justice. It's fair to say that the main character here is probably Erik Maria Bark, a psychologist who knows Linna as they'd worked together in the past and whose skills as a hypnotist look like they could be vital as it appears there is a link between this investigation and previous case. It would also seem that Erik has made a few transgressions which might eventually come to light and at first I really wasn't sure how I should respond to him - is he the key to discovering the truth or is he partly to blame for a killer still walking free? It's only when he becomes involved with a blind piano tutor, Jackie that I began to warm to him but even here there are moments where there are unsettling parallels between him and the murderer as he observes Jackie without her knowledge. Jackie herself is a wonderful character whose blindness never solely defines her. I don't know any blind people well but felt the authors successfully explored both the challenges and the benefits of being visually impaired and I was delighted to see a disabled person in a book allowed to have a sex life and not just be a token character without any real personality.
Although Joona's role in the book is a lesser one, his influence, reputation and sheer force of personality, even when he seems broken is fascinating and I looked forward to the scenes in which he appears. I've not read the previous Joona Linna books and while I loved Stalker and am happy to recommend it as a standalone novel, I think that readers who already know the series have a slight advantage because I don't know how this Joona compares to his persona in the earlier books. I loved the sense of danger about him and the feeling that his concept of justice doesn't always agree with the law. It's clear that he has witnessed some terrible acts during his lifetime and that as a result, it wouldn't take too much for him to resort to vigilantism rather than relying on the law to adequately deal with wrong-doers.
This is not the Sweden that perhaps springs to mind when envisaging the country; Stalker is a vividly brutal and gritty novel which looks at the social issues prevalent in many countries, from drug use to gun crime to people trafficking. After the slower middle section, the action picks up again and after a genuinely shocking revelation, the final few chapters are exceptionally tense - so much so that I couldn't put the book down. I ended up staying awake until after 1am until I reached the end and then I couldn't sleep because my heart was still racing! Stalker is dark, twisted and uncompromising and although it's an uncomfortable read at times, I found it absolutely compelling and cannot recommend it highly enough to anybody who enjoys complex, disturbing thrillers. I loved it and can't wait to go back and read the previous books in the series now!

Stalker was published in the US by Knopf on 5th February 2019. It can be purchased through the buying links on the publisher's website or from here for UK readers.

Don't forget to check out the previous stops on the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author

LARS KEPLER is the pseudonym of the critically acclaimed husband and wife team Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril and Alexander Ahndoril. Their number one internationally bestselling Joona Linna series has sold more than twelve million copies in forty languages. The Ahndorils were both established writers before they adopted the pen name Lars Kepler and have each published several acclaimed novels. They live in Stockholm, Sweden.
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