With Stieg Larsson continuing his reign on the best-seller lists in all formats – e-books, hardcover, and paperback (where the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” has been for two years) – publishers continue to try and convince readers that they have found “the next Stieg Larsson.” High on the list of candidates is Lars Kepler, another writer who caused a sensation in Sweden and whose first book, The Hypnotist, has just been released in the U.S. with great fanfare. A movie is already in the works.
Except there is no Lars Kepler.
At least not in the flesh. Nevertheless, he’s very much alive to Alexander and Alexandra Ahndoril, his creators, whom we interviewed in Stockholm last November as part of the research process for our book, The Tattooed Girl. “He’s an intimate member of the family who has a strong voice and wants to write all the time,” the Ahndorils tell us over coffee in a cavernous, once-elegant church room turned into a cafeteria in the heart of Stockholm, some distance from Stieg Larsson’s cozy coffee bars in Södermalm.
Each a highly regarded literary figure in Sweden, Alexander is a novelist and playwright who wrote a best-selling fictional account of the creation of an Ingmar Bergman film, and Alexandra is a literary novelist who has written three books based on historical figures as seen from the perspective of their families.
In person, the Andhorils are elegant, soft-spoken, and seem the most unlikely of couples to write page after page about savagely dismembered bodies, messed-up families, infidelity, a teen who kills his parents to punish his older sister for not giving him sex, and a deranged, murdering ex-patient who kidnaps the son of the hypnotist of the title. But then in walked Lars Kepler. What follows are notes from our discussions with the Ahndorils.
What inspired you to write not only jointly, but in a totally different genre?
We had always wanted to do something together, but it didn’t work because we have very different literary styles and couldn’t find a way to merge them. We just got angry with each other. We had to find a totally new genre and invent a character that was not us. It turned out to be Lars Kepler. His name pays homage to both Stieg Larsson and Johannes Kepler, the 17th century German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer. After we envisioned him we invited him into our apartment and he is now very much alive in our house. We found out that he drinks tea. We prefer coffee. He eats lemon biscuits, we never tried them before. And he has a very strong voice and wants to write all the time.
Tea? Lemon biscuits? That sure is a long way from Blomkvist and Salander’s diet of pizza, fast-food hamburgers, and coffee.
We really like Stieg Larsson, but are trying to add something new. We think Lars Kepler is interested in a much faster-paced story and also in taking the clichés of the genre and twisting them in a different way.
We also differ in that our entrance into crime fiction was not through reading dozens of crime fiction books but through film. We’ve been watching nearly one film a day for the past 18 years as a way to relax from writing all day in isolation. Our thought was to try to transfer the way movies tell a story into a text, to transfer the filmic kind of suggestion into a novel.
How would you characterize Joona Linna, the police detective who is your main character?
“Joona” is the Finnish version of Jonah, the Biblical prophet who is cast into the sea and swallowed by a whale. Metaphorically, the whale is the plot and Jonah remains in him until he has solved the case, when he is thrown up on the shore again. He’s not a man who thinks everything can be solved and wiped away with a gun. He is careful and follows the rules as long as possible. He’s not judgmental. His sole focus is to see that justice is done, whatever the obstacles.
It sounds as if it is now very natural for the two of you to work together in this new genre. And peaceful besides.
Being each stuck behind our own desks was lonely. Some books took us years to write –years without showing the text to anybody, without input or discussion. That’s pretty lonely. Now we can talk together and change the text 20 times a day, actually without arguing. It’s fun and exciting.
Thank you, we appreciate your both taking the time to talk with us, especially since we know you are moving to a new apartment tomorrow. We hope Lars Kepler likes it.
We do, too. Our first book was set in our old apartment and horrible crimes took place there.
For the complete interview, and those of other leading Swedish crime fiction writers as well, see The Tattooed Girl, Chapter 6.