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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Nightmare

Lars Kepler

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To purchase The Nightmare

Title: The Nightmare
Author: Lars Kepler
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 500 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: The Nightmare - US
The Nightmare - UK
The Nightmare - Canada
The Nightmare - India
Le pacte - France
Paganinis Fluch - Deutschland
L'esecutore - Italia
El contrato - España
  • Swedish title: Paganinikontraktet
  • Translated by Laura A. Wideburg

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Our Assessment:

B : very basic (in all its aspects) thriller, but competently done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 14/5/2012 .
Svenska Dagbladet . 15/7/2010 Magnus Persson
Swedish Book Review . (2010:2) Anna Paterson

  From the Reviews:
  • "Fans of slow-burning Scandinavian crime fiction with troubled heroes will feel right at home" - Publishers Weekly

  • "Det är onekligen spännande, mycket spännande. Som semesterläsning fungerar det utmärkt. (...) Vad som får Keplers verk att ändå höja sig över merparten av konkurrenterna är språket: det är rappt men också bitvis vemodigt och vackert. Mest intressant är kanske den allegoriska ådra som ganska öppet pulserar genom texten; de mångfaldiga och motstridande iscensättningarna av konstens effekter på människan." - Magnus Persson, Svenska Dagbladet

  • "Lars Kepler has got it just right -- his work excites, even shocks, but does not offend. (...) The Paganini Contract is an exercise in political analysis -- national and international bureaucracies, treaties and alliances -- and classical music theory, especially as it applies to the violin." - Anna Paterson, Swedish Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Nightmare begins with two separate deaths: a young woman is murdered on a boat, and the head of the National Inspectorate of Strategic Products -- the Swedish agency that has the last say on all arms exports (i.e. whether they're permitted or not) -- is found hanged, a suspicious suicide. Detective Inspector Joona Linna is called to the scene of the suicide by a colleague, and it doesn't take him all too long to begin to put two and two together, as he sees there is a connection between these two crimes. And soon enough they realize that, as one colleague puts it: "This is much bigger than we thought".
       The woman on the boat was not alone: her sister, the activist Penelope Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Björn, happened not to be on board when the murder took place -- but they almost immediately realize they are also targets, and soon they are running for their lives.
       The novel starts out going along this basic two-track narrative, switching back and forth between Joona's detective-work and Penelope trying to escape the killer, but other tracks are layered on as well. There's Axel Riessen, for example, a former violin prodigy who is quickly approached to replace the suicide as head of the ISP -- and then quickly pressured to sign a release for a big arms shipment to Africa. Riessen has some secrets of his own, too, including the reason why he abandoned his so-promising music career decades earlier -- and the fact that he takes an underage teenage girl to bed with him every night.
       As Joona -- and Penelope -- quickly discover, the person who killed Penelope's sister is a true pro. He's exceptionally good at covering his tracks, and he's been busy, intently searching for something, which somehow has to do with Penelope. He's an awesome hunter, and there's almost nothing that Penelope can do to find herself completely safe. As Joona eventually reminds his colleagues: "None of us will meet a more dangerous human."
       It takes a while to figure out what the killer is after, but even figuring that out just presents a new mystery. It's not immediately obvious why it is worth so much to someone -- but clearly it is, as the carnage continues (there's lots and lots of carnage in this book). Joona continues digging, and he puts the pieces together -- yet even then it's difficult to get to the heart of the matter, as the mastermind behind it all proves very powerful indeed -- powerful enough to drive men to commit suicide rather than face the alternative. As a colleague tells Joona, even after they've already gotten pretty far: "The smartest thing would be to drop the case".
       Kepler keeps things moving at a nice pace. The chapters are very short -- only a couple of pages each (and in the US edition each new one begins only halfway down the page, making for lots of blanks spaces) -- and the switching back and forth relentless. Joona displays impressive insight, so the investigations skips along nice and fast, while Penelope is clever enough to keep at least half (though not a full) step ahead of the killer -- most of the time. Tossing in some quirky elements, such as Riessen and the girl in his life, as well as later the evil mastermind behind it all makes for nice (well, not so nice ...), fresh elements to the narrative that help sustain interest.
       The basic idea of 'the nightmare' that haunts some of these characters is okay; the novel's Swedish title translates as 'The Paganini Contract' in the original, and the musical connection is a bit forced, but by the time readers get to it the thriller has gone so completely into fantasy-land that it more or less fits right in.
       The Nightmare largely succeeds -- and is an improvement over the previous volume, The Hypnotist -- because it is a pared-down, bare-bones 101 thriller. Everything -- and especially the writing (and translation) -- is at its most basic here. So too the succession of events and revelations. The thing is, it's all done very competently: the writing is basic, but it's rarely truly bad. The novel is written -- and unfolds -- at a ten-year-old's level, but it does so very well, and comes as a considerable relief to the overwritten, overwrought Scandinavian (and other) thrillers that have become the norm.
       Sure, Kepler goes overboard too -- there are some ridiculous elements as well, such as an excursion to the German embassy, or the idea that Riessen could identify a musical moment as: "Measure 156 in the first movement of Béla Bartók's Second String Quartet" -- and certainly the concluding scenes get kind of silly. And the idea that an arms sale could go through so easily and quickly after the suspicious death of the head of the agency who is supposed to approve it is also a bit much to pin so much of the novel on. But even all this is just thriller 101 stuff, and, again: it's done fairly well.
       The Nightmare is a true light read, aspiring to nothing more. Yes, it's entirely forgettable, but it does just fine as a pass-time read that offers well-paced thrills and little more.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 October 2012

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The Nightmare: Reviews: 'Lars Kepler': Other books by 'Lars Kepler' under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       'Lars Kepler' is the pseudonym of the Swedish crime-writing couple, Alexander and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril.

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