A Book Spy Review: ‘The Sandman’ by Lars Kepler


THe SandmanLars Kepler brings back Det. Insp. Joona Linna (this is the fourth book the series, but the first published in the U.S. by Knopf) and introduces readers to a memorable, terrifying villain in The Sandman

For thirteen years, Jurek Walter has lived in a tiny cell in a secure psychiatric ward just outside of Stockholm after being convicted of murder. Over the years, Jurek has claimed more than twenty victims, including a young boy named Mikael Kobler-Frost.

For his sins, Jurek — whose case has been kept out of the media — has been sentenced to total isolation for the rest of his life. And then the unthinkable happens. . . on a cold winter night, a young man is found walking on train tracks wearing blood-soaked clothing. Upon being taken to the hospital, it’s revealed the young man is actually Mikael, who escaped captivity after being held by a man he calls the Sandman. 

Joona Linna, the detective who put Jurek away, always believed the killer had an accomplice, but couldn’t prove it. Now, feeling vindicated, he sets his sights on the Sandman — who Mikael claims still has his sister. But to get to him, they need to get information out of Jurek, a man so evil and skilled with the tongue that his in-house doctors wear earplugs when interacting with him just to keep the killer out of their heads.

Because of their prior history, Linna cannot approach Jurek himself, so he hatches a plan to send genius twenty-seven-year-old Inspector Saga Bauer undercover as a patient in the same psychiatric ward where Jurek is imprisoned, in hopes that she can get close enough to the psychopath to get him to talk about the Sandman. It’s a risky proposition, which could result in significant harm to Bauer, who agrees to take on Jurek but quickly learns that the man is far more terrifying than she thought.

Knowing that there are other victims’ lives at stake means the clock is running, and Joona Linna doesn’t have much time to figure out how Jurek is communicating with an accomplice on the outside. . . and who that person is. 

Lars Kepler is a pen name for the Swedish husband-and-wife writing team of Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril and Alexander Ahndoril. Combining their writing styles to create a unique voice as Kepler, the couple has sold more than 11 million copies of their books around the world. Surprisingly, though, they haven’t yet taken off in the U.S., where previous versions of their books struggled to sell.

Through a long process that included getting a new translator to pen their work into English, the Ahndorils (Kepler) sold rights to Knopf (previously, their work here in America was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux), who has had great success publishing other Scandinavian thriller authors such as Stieg Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Jo Nesbo (The Thirst). 

And Knopf isn’t just betting big on Kepler, they’re all in, having bought up the rights to publish three backlisted titles and two future books in the U.S. moving forward. There are also film and movie projects in the works, and Knopf is sending the Ahndorils on an impressive ten-city tour this March to help launch The Sandman

In a note to reviewers and critics that went out as part of a media kit with advance copies of the book, Sonny Mehta, chairman and editor-in-chief of Knopf Doubleday publishing group, says that The Sandman is a “fast-paced thriller with a terrifying villain that will keep you in its grips until the final pages.” New York Times bestselling author Lee Child calls the novel “sensational,” and says it’s “like meeting Hannibal Lecter all over again.”

Both men are right on the money, except I would add that Jurek Walter, Kepler’s antagonist, would scare the living hell out of Hannibal the Cannibal himself. Nothing about the plot is really that different from other similar stories, except that Jurek might be the most cunning, maniacal, and superbly written villain to terrify this generation of readers.

It’s easy to see why characters take precautions around Jurek because just reading his scenes is unlike anything else I’ve experienced from a novel. It really does almost feel like the sadistic killer jumps inside your own head as you flip the pages. This book will screw with your mind hard, and it’s absolutely horrifying. . . yet strangely tantalizing at the same time. 

If you have any fingernails left upon completion of this book, you deserve an award. . . Lars Kepler’s The Sandman is Nordic noir at its absolute finest, and a haunting, riveting story that will stay with readers for quite some time. 

Book Details

Author: Lars Kepler
Series: Joona Linna #4
Pages: 464 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1524732249
Publisher: Knopf
Release Date: March 6, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 8.5/10



Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck is the editor-in-chief of The Real Book Spy, and one of the thriller genre’s most well-recognized critics. He currently lives in southwest Michigan with his wife and their five children. For more information, make sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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