The Authors Behind The Author Of 'The Hypnotist' In 2009, the popular Swedish thriller came with a mystery to rival the one contained in the book. Now, as The Hypnotist is published in the United States in the wake of the success of Steig Larsson's novels, the authors talk about why Swedish writers are drawn to dark subject matter.
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The Authors Behind The Author Of 'The Hypnotist'

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The Authors Behind The Author Of 'The Hypnotist'

The Authors Behind The Author Of 'The Hypnotist'

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There seems to be something about the frozen vistas and the unpronounceable street names of Sweden that lend themselves to crime fiction. Stieg Larsson certainly proved the point with hugely popular "Millennium Trilogy," which included "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." And now comes a new thriller tapped to be this summer's Nordic hit. It's called "The Hypnotist," and it's the work of Swedish writer Lars Kepler; except, turns out, Lars Kepler doesn't actually exist.

To help explain, we've invited Alexander Ahndoril and his wife, Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril, to come into the studio in Stockholm.

Welcome to you both.

Mr. ALEXANDER AHNDORIL (Co-Author, "The Hypnotist"): Thank you.

Ms. ALEXANDRA COELHO AHNDORIL Co-Author, "The Hypnotist"): Thank you.

KELLY: All right, so who is Lars Kepler?

Ms. AHNDORIL: Actually, I am Lars.

Mr. AHNDORIL: And I'm Kepler.

Ms. AHNDORIL: Because Lars Kepler is not Alexandra or Alexander. It's us two writing crime fiction together.

Mr. AHNDORIL: Because we writers in our own right, here in Sweden, and we wanted to create a brand-new writer when we started to write crime novels.

KELLY: This is your first book writing together, as a husband and wife team.

Ms. AHNDORIL: Yes. Yes.

Mr. AHNDORIL: Right.

KELLY: This caused, I gather, quite the stir - huge literary mystery in Sweden. When "The Hypnotists" first came out, hit the bestseller lists in Sweden, nobody could figure out who Lars Kepler was to try to interview him or her. I understand newspaper teams set up their own reporting squads devoted to try to figure out who Lars Kepler was.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. AHNDORIL: Yes, it's true. They even had a telephone line...

Mr. AHNDORIL: Yeah, a hotline.

Ms. AHNDORIL: Yeah, you could call and give tips about who Lars Kepler was. And we were hunted down. Three weeks after the publication, the journalist found us in our summer house.

Mr. AHNDORIL: So we actually wanted to stay secret forever. That was the idea. But it lasted for three weeks.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KELLY: For three weeks and you were outed. Where did you come up with the name Lars Kepler? What does it mean?

Ms. AHNDORIL: Lars, it's a tribute to Stieg Larsson because we wanted to wave to him in the heaven of writers. And because we think that he did something really new with crime fiction here in Sweden.

Mr. AHNDORIL: And Kepler is from Johannes Kepler, the German scientist who solved one of his times biggest riddles; the elliptic ways of the planets around the sun.

KELLY: Talk to me, both of you, about how you actually wrote this. How you write a novel with someone else? Do you trade chapters back and forth, or sit next to each other and brainstorm? How did you do it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AHNDORIL: We wanted to write together for several years. But every time we tried it, we ended up in big fights.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AHNDORIL: So it's not that easy to write together.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KELLY: It's a kind of marriage therapy, I gather.

Ms. AHNDORIL: Yeah. Yes.

Mr. AHNDORIL: But I think this pen name, Lars Kepler, helped us to work together. And that was the key to our creativity together. As soon as we created him, we...

Ms. AHNDORIL: We were happy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AHNDORIL: And we started to write. And we start every day with a tea meeting, as we call it. We do like tea.

KELLY: A tea meeting?

Mr. AHNDORIL: Yeah, we drink. While Lars Kepler prefers tea, me and Alexandra, we...

Ms. AHNDORIL: We are coffee drinkers.

Ms. AHNDORIL: Yeah. But Lars...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AHNDORIL: ...has to have his tea.

KELLY: How are far do you take this? Do you actually brew a cup of tea for Lars Kepler?

Mr. AHNDORIL: Oh, yes.

Ms. AHNDORIL: No, not for him but for us. Yeah.

Mr. AHNDORIL: But for us.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AHNDORIL: So he has to have these lemon biscuits...

Ms. AHNDORIL: As well, yeah.

Mr. AHNDORIL: Yeah. So well, it's a bit strange. But held during these meetings, we...

Ms. AHNDORIL: Discuss the plot.

Ms. AHNDORIL: Yeah, we put a lot of notes on our kitchen table and discuss the plot.

KELLY: Well, let me ask you a little bit about the book itself. It opens with a very brutal murder of a family in Stockholm. The only surviving witness to the murderer is the teenage son in the family, who is in critical condition, too weak to talk. And the doctors and investigators in the case decide we've got to figure out what this boy could say. They decide to hypnotize him to see if he can provide any clues to help identify the murderer.

Why take the book in that direction? What made you all decide to write about hypnosis?

Ms. AHNDORIL: One thing that we really were fascinated with was getting inside the head of the perpetrator; understanding behavior that is terrifying. And then we thought that a hypnotist can actually get inside the head of a person, and see the memories and the hidden, hidden things.

Mr. AHNDORIL: And, of course, it helped that my big brother, he works as a hypnotist. So he's a professional hypnotist.

KELLY: Now, the violence in your book is largely carried out by women and by children. It's the women and children who were terrorizing victims in your book. It's an unusual direction to take a thriller.

Ms. AHNDORIL: Yes, I know. We had to write about things that really scared us in the real world.

Mr. AHNDORIL: And, of course, it's really frightening. We have three daughters, our own. And, of course, there's nothing more frightening than something bad happening to them. And also the thought of our children turning bad in some ways is another frightening thought.

KELLY: But I want to ask whether there's something particular to Sweden that seems to lend itself to such dark crime writing. I mean American readers, many of them will be familiar, we've mentioned Stieg Larsson who had terrible violence. Very entertaining books but very violent.

Your book, if anything, I would think is grizzlier than "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" trilogy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. AHNDORIL: Yeah, I think...

Mr. AHNDORIL: You have to come here in wintertime.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AHNDORIL: It's so dark.

Ms. AHNDORIL: It's very, very dark. Very dark, yeah.

Mr. AHNDORIL: We do not even see the sun for several months in the north of Sweden. So...

Ms. AHNDORIL: Yes, but I also think that you experience a book as scary when you care for the people in the book. And then you don't want anything bad to happen to them. And that's how we felt when we wrote the book. We were so scared ourselves.

Mr. AHNDORIL: And I think one thing with Sweden is that in some way the Swedish society is a very good society, almost perfect on the surface. That is something that makes the writers forced to see what is underneath the surface, because it's always something underneath the surface, of course. And it's about feeling safe. We do feel safe in Sweden. That's why we can...

Ms. AHNDORIL: Write these terrible books.

Mr. AHNDORIL: Yeah, and explore what is frightening in the world.

KELLY: That's Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril and her husband, Alexander Ahndoril. They write together under the pseudonym Lars Kepler. Their new book is called "The Hypnotist."

Thanks so much to you both.

Mr. AHNDORIL: Oh, thank you. Thank you very much.

Ms. AHNDORIL: Great, thanks. It was a pleasure.

KELLY: You can read about the discovery of the young patient an excerpt from "The Hypnotist" at our web site,

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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