Detective fiction is one of those genres most readers believe to be a modern invention, beginning with the Victorian publication of Sherlock Holmes. And, while Mr. Holmes certainly deserves credit for taking the genre mainstream, it’s origins may be found in much older stories. Chinese detective fiction may be traced back to the thirteenth century, while another detective story may be found in One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. Solving a mystery, collecting the clues, and trying to guess the ending is an unending fascination. Today, detective fiction is more popular than ever. There is an innate desire to solve the mystery before anyone else in every reader on this planet.
Lars Kepler is the pseudonym used by the wife and husband team consisting of Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril and Alexander Ahndoril. Both are established authors in their own right, but, together, they have produced one of the most fascinating modern detective series. They chose their shared name based on personal heroes. Lars for Stieg Larsson, a name every reader should be familiar with, the author of the Millennium series. His most famous book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, defined how the world sees Swedish crime novels. Kepler is for Johannes Kepler, the German scientist whose work on the movement of the planets led to Isaac Newton developing his theory of universal gravitation. Together, the Ahndorils created the Joona Linna series. Joona, a Finn living and employed in the Swedish police force, has featured in five novels, with The Rabbit Hunter being his sixth. While characters do cross over between novels, and certain plot points continue, not much prior knowledge is required to enjoy The Rabbit Hunter.
The Joona Linna series is not for the faint of heart. Few other mainstream books contain the darkness, violence, and depravity featured in these pages. In this sense, it continues the tradition set forward by Stieg Larsson in exposing the dark underbelly of Sweden. This is a country with numerous white supremacy and neo-nazi groups. Violence against women and domestic abuse is staggeringly high for a developed country, so much so that the Swedish title for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is actually Men Who Hate Women. That level of exposing sexism and misogyny is ever present in The Rabbit Hunter. Nearly seven thousand cases of child abuse were recorded in 2007 alone, and, in a population of roughly nine million, there will be tens of thousands of rapes and incidents of domestic abuse throughout the year. The world sees Sweden as a blond, democratic paradise. But, as with most things, the reality is wildly different from the fiction.
The series may be named after Joona Linna, but he is not the only main character of the novels. That honor belongs to Saga Bauer, often described as the most beautiful woman in the room who could easily punch someone to death after spending a lifetime boxing. There are more than a few similarities between the two. Work always takes precedence in their lives, to the detriment of their interpersonal relationships. Before the start of the series, an encounter with a serial killer forced Joona’s wife and daughter into hiding, faking their deaths. His wife later dies, followed soon after by his girlfriend. At the start of the series, Saga has a boyfriend, and their relationship slowly deteriorates at the series progresses, though it is not subjected to the same level of tragedy as Joona. Both have an interesting relationship with the law as well. In the interest of catching the most violent of criminals, Joona and Saga will willingly break the law without a moment’s hesitation. Equal time is spent with both heroes, and neither is ever inconsequential to the story.
The Rabbit Hunter gives us two other major characters to join Joona and Saga: Rex Muller, a celebrity chef and alcoholic; and David “DJ” Johnson, Muller’s producer and friend, and a narcoleptic. Muller we first meet urinating into the fist victim’s pool, and later becomes entrenched in the investigation due to PR. He knows the security camera footage will come out eventually, so Muller pretends to be friends with the man. DJ, aside from helping Muller organize his life, spends his chapters fighting against his severe narcolepsy and dealing with the revelation that his mother was raped in high school. His confrontation with the rapist early in the novel leads to the man’s death, and DJ doing his best to stay composed.
I will not be spoiling the central plot or mystery of The Rabbit Hunter in this review. But I will talk about the setup, the themes, and what we learn about the murderer before his motivations are revealed. In this novel, the twist is less about who the murderer is, though that is a twist, than it is trying to figure out his motivations for committing his murders. The first target is the Foreign Minister of Sweden, whose murder leads the police to suspect terrorism and launch the investigation in the completely wrong direction. Lars Kepler uses this as an opportunity to analyze the racism in Sweden and show how the authorities will immediately target immigrants without any evidence. After this murder, the killer, the titular Rabbit Hunter, becomes one of our POV characters. We learn about his past as a soldier, his hunting and torturing rabbits as a child, his single-minded execution of his goal, his remarkable ability to pass unseen in society, and the surprisingly sympathetic sense of justice that informs his every move.
The Rabbit Hunter is book six in a series that I have avidly followed since first translated into English. It is easy to jump in here and become thoroughly engrossed by the literary world spread out before you. If you want to read more, I cannot recommend the earlier books enough. The villains commit monstrous actions, and the heroes become a littler monstrous themselves trying to catch them. This is a series which shines a light on that little bit of darkness that inhabits us all.
The Rabbit Hunter may be found online, in store, or wherever books are sold
Total Read Time: 5 days
Next on the List: Empire of Blue Water, by Stephen Talty