Lancashire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Features Writer
1:02 AM 4th November 2023

Case Study: Caesar - The Mirror Man By Lars Kepler

Set in Sweden, this Nordic Noir novel is a real page turner. It is the eighth in the Joona Linna series but the first I’ve read. Detective Joona Linna is a complex detective and I’m assuming that if I had read previous novels, I would understand him rather better but nevertheless, this is an excellent standalone novel and the essence of the man, driven by his work, is clear.

It begins innocuously enough – for a murder/detective thriller – with the abduction of teenager Jenny Lind. Jenny is one of the ‘populars’ at school, as modern teenage girls might term her, although perhaps not necessarily the nicest person you could meet if her off-hand treatment of Eleanor is accurately described. Once taken, Jenny finds herself in a run down, isolated house where she is chained and caged along with several other girls. Their captor is unpredictable and extremely brutal in the punishment he gives out and her worst nightmares become reality. You need a stronger stomach as time goes on although the violence tends to come in short bursts rather than anything too prolonged.

Having witnessed her father kill a defenceless man, she finds it hard to forgive...
The search for her draws blanks at every turn and eventually, the case is closed. Fast forward five years and she is found dead, hanging from the jungle gym, in the local park. According to CCTV footage, the only witness is Martin, who, when questioned, can recall nothing. Martin has serious issues; his psychosis is real, the result of a profound trauma as a child when he lost his family and compounded, when we first meet him, by the loss of his daughter, believed drowned, when he himself was saved. Pamela, his wife, tries to cope with the grief of losing her daughter and her husband’s increasingly fragile state. Martin wants to help the police and agrees to undergo hypnosis to try to unlock the memory of what he saw. Pamela wants to help another teenage girl, to replace her lost daughter and Mia becomes the focus of her attention, until Mia is threatened and then goes missing. Someone does not want Martin to talk to the police.

Detective Joona Linna from the National Crime Unit, has his own problems in the form of a daughter who cannot cope with his line of work. Having witnessed her father kill a defenceless man, she finds it hard to forgive as she asks herself what kind of man her father really is. Nevertheless, he is driven and has to pursue a case, despite opposition from all quarters, and quickly involves himself when Jenny’s body is discovered.

At times, the reader shares the lives of the captured young women, held in horrific conditions, not daring to escape.
There is a sense of urgency but Linna is determined and strong, painstaking and intuitive, even if it means he doesn’t necessarily get the results as quickly as his boss would like. But sometimes, the search for the truth is a long, hard and painful slog. Another girl goes missing and when Linna spots an unusual link, he realises they are not looking for the murderer of one young lady but for the serial killer of who knows how many young women who have gone missing over the years. It becomes a race against time to save those who have most recently disappeared.

The narrative jumps about, offering multiple perspectives - those of the key players - as the drama unfolds, keeping the reader on their toes and perhaps reflecting the difficulties the police have in following leads. At times, the reader shares the lives of the captured young women, held in horrific conditions, not daring to escape. Frida tried to run away but failed and her punishment meant she will never run away from ‘Granny’ again. Granny is not the kindly old woman of normal fiction but one who wields a stick with a poisoned fang attached to the end of it, and an axe! All suffer when in the grip of Granny and her sadistic son, Caesar, who, when it suits him, rapes and murders the girls his mother has seized on his behalf. And it seems his violence and his anger is increasing dramatically. Kim and Blenda, Amanda and Jasmin, Mia and Kim, Rosanna and…. how many more? It’s the will of God, he says, ‘quoting Corinthians’.

Their captor is unpredictable and extremely brutal in the punishment he gives out and her worst nightmares become reality
.Linna pursues all leads including one called Primus, another patient at the local hospital for those deemed mentally unstable, the hospital where Martin spends time and where Martin says he overheard a telephone conversation between Primus and Caesar. Following Primus takes Linna to the Eagle’s Nest, a gambling den of real brutality which breaks his younger, less experienced colleagues – they are lucky to get out alive. They witness a depravity which you and I cannot imagine, a delight in violence and degradation which is unnatural in any decent society and their experiences barely progress the case.

Although there are many characters with whom the reader feels an emotional attachment, the novel is essentially plot-driven and action-filled but it also explores mental illness. I’m not talking about mental health and stress brought on by everyday living but real mental illness brought about by trauma, mental illness which is so deep rooted that even the so-called experts can get it wrong, no matter how hard they try. There are several graphic and disturbing scenes and the antagonist’s deranged actions have a terrifying realism. The tools of a civilised society are not always sufficient to overcome real evil - evil which is too clever to be cured. By the end, I definitely identified shades of Jekyll and Hyde and Martin’s actions were noble and selfless.

Interestingly, Lars Kepler is not one writer but two, a husband and wife team, both authors, independent of each other but who found new insight when they combined their talents. I wouldn’t choose to read this every day but I was forced to finish it once I’d started because of the need to know and understand all that went on. A powerful and dramatic narrative.

The Mirror Man is published by Zaffre