Unlike the creature of myth by the same name, The Sandman by Lars Kepler will not put you to sleep. Quite to the contrary, you won’t want to put it down. And when you do finally try to go to sleep, you very likely will be afraid to close your eyes.
This is a straight-up story of good versus evil ... This is reliable and familiar, and it is done amazingly well. The book's chief attribute, however, is also its biggest shortcoming. It is fast ... The pace is so swift that the book doesn't allow for reflection. Its characters are reactive, conventional. And so, too, is the writing. A book this fast doesn't have time for self indulgence or nuance. That doesn't mean its bereft of intrigue ... Instead of disappointing, the book surprises.
If any Scandinavian crime series is poised to top the characterization and gripping action of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series, it’s this one. Kepler has crafted a phenomenal hero in Linna, who wields intuition, strategic genius, and refreshing vulnerability against a foe as compelling and calculating as Hannibal Lecter.
Nothing is predictable in The Sandman, this edgy, riveting, beautifully-wrought thriller. The scenes between Saga Bauer and Jurek Walter are elegantly orchestrated to elicit what can only be described as restrained horror gone awry. Linna is a phenomenal cop-cum-hero who stays ahead of the bad guys with savvy and spirit. Plus, there is a cliffhanger climax that will take your breath away.
All this is told via 181 short chapters, many less than two pages long. The desired effect is to keep things moving; it’s as though the authors were editing each other as they wrote ... The phrasing is rudely blunt ... The scenes cut back and forth between hero and villain with brutal efficiency. Basically, a Lars Kepler thriller stops only to fixate on Joona’s eyes, which distractingly transfix any number of characters who take in this tall hunk of melancholia ... With this as its subtext, The Sandman sends us off to dreamland with a nightmare that can make us happy.
With its tight, staccato chapters and cast of dangerous wraiths lurking everywhere, The Sandman is a nonstop fright. It’s able to shift its focus frequently with no loss of tension ... the book’s greatest tension comes from wondering whether either Joona or Saga [the detectives] is any match for this near-supernatural monster, who can implant thoughts in his victims’ heads or turn up as an apparition just staring into their windows. Scared yet? You will be.
Kepler...proves that a gifted storyteller can make something memorable from an overused plot in his nail-biting fourth novel featuring Det. Insp. Joona Linna (after 2013’s The Fire Witness) ... Kepler doesn’t pull any punches, and his care in creating characters will make readers deeply invested in their fates.
Writing, as always, in short chapters, most just a couple of pages in length, and in telegraphic sentences, Kepler builds a story whose pace is occasionally off but that resolves in a satisfactory if blood-soaked manner. The yarn isn’t as spine-tingling as, say, Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman or as action-packed as Stieg Larsson’s original Millennium trilogy, but as Swedish mysteries go, it does the trick.