On the face of it, this is a perfectly serviceable Scandi crime thriller. Dastardly psycho killer has spent years seething and scheming fiendishly, coming up with a dastardly plan to exact appalling retribution upon his enemies. He is undoubtedly an utter nutter; someone who is several rabbits short of the full warren, but he’s also not entirely unsympathetic. His victims ain’t exactly saints, and they’re drawn from the boorish upper echelons of society – who exist even in enlightened Sweden, apparently – and who probably deserve a tiny little bit of being stalked, tortured, maimed and murdered.
So far, so fine.
In the opposing corner we have Joona Linna, disgraced detective, currently a convict. An apparent terrorist attack and a convoluted conspiracy theory make him the inside man who might be able to prevent wholesale slaughter, so he’s rapidly rehabilitated… although not without some confusion among colleagues and the inevitable inter-agency friction which leads to serious operational SNAFUs.
Although the amount of leeway which Linna enjoys considerably stretches credibility, he’s the perfect pivot for the plot to revolve around. The authors reveal just enough of Linna’s personal life to give him depth and make him distinctive; not so much that the whole thing turns into a daytime TV domestic drama. He’s a principled and intuitive investigator – but not a superhero, not inevitably guaranteed to survive unscathed. Nor does Linna dominate the narrative: his story is just one aspect of a much bigger picture.
In short, good stuff.
Then there’s all the intriguing elements which elevate a good crime novel beyond a plain and simple puzzle. The celebrity chef with a drink problem. His teenage son, full of resentment and sexual confusion. The jailbird jihadi, plotting potential terror from within prison. A woman with a broken mind, medicated into oblivion on the far side of the world. A series of gruesome killings and the threat of more to come.
All of these are the good parts to The Rabbit Hunter, and they more than make it worth reading. There are however a couple of hideous plot holes which seriously damage the integrity of the entire book. The first is actually pretty trivial, but it infuriated me. Linna’s sidekick is (inevitably) a feisty female intelligence agent, Saga Bauer. For some reason, the authors obviously thought it would be cool to have her roar around on a motorcycle. That’s fine. Roaring around on a motorcycle is in fact cool. I do it a lot.
Unfortunately, the writing duo that forms Lars Kepler don’t appear to know the first thing about motorbikes and this makes all those sequences just plain silly. If a bike has a ‘broken transmission’ then it goes nowhere. It’s immobile. If a rider is in a hurry, even the biggest hurry in the history of the universe, she’d still take less than one single second to kick out the bike’s sidestand, rather than drop it onto the ground. No modern bike will survive being dropped onto its side very often. It certainly wouldn’t start on the button when she returned to it; not with all those flammable fluids leaking out, damaging paintwork, etc. As for the ‘no underwear under tight leathers’ schtick: oh please. Grow up.
Like I say, trivial. But irritating.
The other glitch is more serious. One of the key characters is given a medical condition which would preclude him from ever entering military service and would certainly render him incapable of the actions he undertakes in this story. It was a nice idea, to give him such an idiosyncratic quirk, but if you stop to think about it… he’d never even pass a medical for national service. So it’s not a smart idea, it’s just plain dumb.
These two features combined meant I had to do a whole lot more suspending disbelief than is comfortable, and bumped me out of the story when I’d rather be immersed in it. They can be overlooked, and The Rabbit Hunter is otherwise a well-constructed romp. The writing and translation are fluid; it belts along at a rapid pace, and the tension ratchets up to the cleverly choreographed, action-packed finale.
It’s just a shame that a couple of ill-considered gimmicks detract from what could’ve been a five-star thriller.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Rabbit Hunter by Lars Kepler is available at Amazon
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