Lars Kepler is the latest Swedish star on the crime writer horizon. Like the works of Sjöwall/Wahlöö, Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson, Kepler’s books are being widely translated and turned over to eager film producers. Kepler’s books have managed to get the attention of two-time Academy Award nominee Lasse Hallström.
When it came to writing Scandicrime together, authors Alexander and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril became Lars Kepler. Photo: Anna-Lena Ahlström
During the spring of 2009, rumors were rife in the Swedish literary press. It was said that a new writer called Lars Kepler had been paid a substantial advance of SEK 9 million (roughly USD 1.4 million or EUR 1 million) for his first book, The Hypnotist (Hypnotisören). And no-one knew who he was. He refused to give interviews and very little was known about him.
A pseudonym with character
A couple of weeks after The Hypnotist was published, and the first edition had sold out, it was revealed that Lars Kepler was a pen name invented by literary duo Alexandra and Alexander Coelho Ahndoril.
Lars Kepler, they say, is the person they become when they write crime novels.
“It seemed perfectly natural,” Alexandra says. “We’ve both been very keen on crime stories, and when we started writing together we couldn’t stop. It was just too much fun. And originally the idea was that we’d keep it secret, but then it somehow leaked out.”
Just months after his debut, Lars Kepler had become an established figure in the wave of Swedish crime writers that has washed over the world in recent decades. But there are still questions that can be asked about his identity. Does he look like someone specific? Does he have any particular interests or habits?
“We picture him in our imagination,” Alexandra says, “and he has a very specific persona. Lars is older than us. He has a full beard.”
“And he’s a bit unkempt, and suffers from social phobia,” adds Alexander. “He used to be a teacher but now works at a night hostel for the homeless. He likes plain Swedish food, meatballs and stuff like that.”
Lars began his pseudonym life as a woman called Lotta, who suffered from electro sensitivity. But the Ahndorils didn’t think this figure felt quite right.
“So she underwent a sex change,” says Alexander. “The fact that he’s called Lars has partly to do with Stieg Larsson — the name is actually a tribute to him.”
After only a month in Swedish bookstores, The Hypnotist topped the bestseller list. When The Paganini Contract (Paganini-kontraktet) appeared — the second book in the series featuring Detective Inspector Joona Linna — it quickly rose to the top of the list as well. But both Alexandra and Alexander strongly reject the idea that they began writing crime novels for the money.
“For four years I was on the National Council for Cultural Affairs,” Alexandra says. “One of the tasks of this government body is to help fund Swedish literature. My job was to read every book published in Sweden, which included quite a few crime novels. Most of them never made a mark — they sold little more than the average collection of poems. So, no, you can’t write crime novels and imagine that you’ll automatically make money. At least we didn’t.”
The reason the couple chose crime writing, they say, is that this genre has such a uniquely broad impact; it cuts through all boundaries.
The Hypnotist (Hypnotisören) brought instant fame to Lars Kepler. It wasn't long before the pseudonym was revealed, and a follow-up was published.
“This means that as a crime writer you also get a wide variety of readers. That’s as good a reason as any to write such novels,” Alexandra says.
Swedish crime writers have enjoyed enormous international success over the past decade. But the Ahndorils don’t feel their style of writing is particularly Swedish, except perhaps when it comes to gender equality aspects.
“We make an effort to inject both a female and a male perspective,” Alexandra says. “It’s not very usual, for instance, to note the ways in which women are harassed. But that’s something we’ve devoted a lot of time to.”
And it is no small indication of quality that Swedish director Lasse Hallström — known for movies such as Gilbert Grape, Chocolat and The Cider House Rules — will be taking on the film versions of the novels about Joona Lima. It will be the first time in over two decades that Hallström will be directing a Swedish film; a Swedish film of a previously untried genre.
“That [Hallström lacks experience of the genre] doesn’t matter, it may even be a good thing,” Alexandra says. “He’s a perfect director with an incredible feel for the subtleties of acting.”
The fact that the books are being turned into films may not exactly have come as a shock. As many critics have noted, they are decidedly ‘visual’ in character.
“I’ve written nine novels in my own name,” Alexander says, “but it’s only now that something like this has happened. The fact that we’ve been inspired by the medium of film is another matter. Just like in the film world we want to portray the crime as it actually happens. In our case, what in fact led us into crime writing was watching countless movies."
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Gabriel Itkes Sznap
Gabriel Itkes Sznap is an editor and freelance writer. He is sincerely hoping that Lasse Hallström will bring Humphrey Bogart back to life and cast him in the role of Joona Lima, the Detective Inspector in Lars Kepler’s novels.
The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
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