Stalker – Lars Kepler (Review)

51fPJZKNKIL._SY346_A video is sent to the National Crime Investigation Department in Stockholm. It shows a normal woman in her own home, doing nothing very exciting. By the time the police identify her, she’s dead. More victims are found, and it becomes clear that the killer is not going to stop. Each video sent to the police means another butchered woman.

Margot Silverman is tasked with catching the killer. Heavily pregnant, she’s determined to solve the case before going on leave. Erik Maria Bark is a hypnotist who thinks the crimes may be linked to a case he worked on years ago. And everyone thought Joona Linna was dead. 

As you can possible tell from that synopsis, this is not a standalone novel. Instead, it’s the fifth book in a series that focuses mainly on Joona Linna, who is apparently the Swedish answer to the Punisher. He’s an exceptional investigator who knows all the martial arts and who has no problem going outside the law. He fights crime.

It’s not a novel that works particularly well on its own. I have not read previous books in the series, and I found Stalker a little confusing at first. There are lots of characters and plot elements that call back to earlier novels, and it’s a lot to take in at once. Read the earlier books first.

The book has a weird viewpoint and voice. It’s in third person present tense, which is an unusual choice, and the book keeps on swapping whose shoulder the reader is hovering behind. Joona Linna seems to be the main character of the series, but he’s not really the main character of the book – Erik gets more time, and is a more sympathetic character.

The narration is slow and somewhat remote. The author has a very dry, matter-of-fact tone, no matter what the topic, and has a tendency to throw in large amounts of background detail rather haphazardly. It’s not a book that will get your pulse racing – the prose is clinical and even the climactic moments are interrupted for musings on Swedish geography.

Stalker is a crime novel, but it’s not a thriller or a mystery particularly. The sense of urgency that you want for a thriller is missing, and there’s little sense of an investigation; the eventual reveal of the stalker doesn’t seem like it’s the logical yet still surprising result of a set of clues. You couldn’t have worked it out from the evidence available, and so the resolution feels a little as though it comes out of nowhere.

The book is long, and a lot happens in it. At first the focus is on the murders, but then lots of interpersonal stuff happens, and people get wrongly accused and the central idea gets a little lost. In places, the plot drags, and some scenes could have been omitted without harming the narrative.

I don’t know how realistic the book is overall. The whole thing seems to suggest an attempt at realism, but if even a small percentage of what the book treats as perfectly normal is actually true, then Sweden is the ideal setting for future Mad Max films. Everyone is on drugs, and large areas of the country seem to be lawless wastelands where people shoot first and ask questions later. I had always pictured Sweden as a rather pleasant place, but apparently I could not have been more wrong. The book is all grit, all the time, with everything being violent and sordid.

Stalker didn’t really grab me. It was long and slow and more complicated than compelling. Perhaps if I had read the earlier books, I would have enjoyed it more. If you like gloomy Swedish things, you might enjoy this, but it wasn’t something I particularly cared for.

Buy it here.

I received a copy of this book free from NetGalley. I don’t believe this has affected the impartiality of my review, but openness about these things is important. 

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