There are some thrillers you can’t put down, and some you must put down, lest they give you a heart attack. The Rabbit Hunter is in the latter category; this is relentless suspense from a Swedish husband-and-wife team known as Lars Kepler, who are adept at tightening the screws while ratcheting up both your investment in some of the eponymous psycho killer’s potential victims and your revulsion for others.
Now middle-aged and prosperous, the targeted men in this novel were all involved in an incident at their elite boarding school outside of Stockholm that has set the murderer on his deranged path to vengeance nearly 30 years later. The Rabbit Hunter’s first victim is Sweden’s foreign minister. Desperate, the authorities call in Joona Linna, a detective with the National Operations Unit who’s been in prison for abetting a felon’s escape. (This is Kepler’s sixth outing featuring Linna, a former paratrooper with preternatural profiling and deductive skills.) Even though it’s Sweden’s Security Police who release Linna and ask him to work on this case, the country’s law-enforcement and security agencies are suspicious of each other and don’t share intel. The body count grows and becomes exceedingly gruesome before Linna and his unofficial partner from National Security, Saga Bauer, can make progress.
Relentless suspense from a Swedish husband-and-wife team known as Lars Kepler.
Never mind that even garden-variety homicide is rare in Sweden and that the murderer’s making-of-a-monster origin story is far-fetched; believability has never been a hallmark of Scandinavian noir. Go ahead and enjoy The Rabbit Hunter for the supremely intense, sweaty-palmed ride it is. Squeamish readers can either take stress breaks or find relief in the sweet moments when one character on the killer’s list, a charismatic but flawed celebrity chef, prepares simple meals with his troubled son—little islets of humanity amid the horror.
For better or worse, Succession has tapped into our appalled fascination with super-wealthy dynasties that hide their evildoing behind the family business. So, if you’re missing the Roys while they rest up for Season Three, you can get your fix from the Kimballs of House on Fire, Joseph Finder’s new Nick Heller novel. This scheming, dysfunctional family runs Kimball Pharma, a Sackler-like drug company that’s taking flack for its opioid-based drug, Oxydone, an addictive inhalant that’s claimed thousands of overdose victims. One of the five Kimball children, a black-sheepish documentary-maker called Sukie, hires Heller, a “private spy” with Special Forces credentials, to unearth a quashed 20-year-old medical study that proved Oxydone to be addictive. What she wants with it is unclear, but if made public, the study would destroy both her father, Conrad, and the company.
If you’re missing the Roys of Succession, you can get your fix from the Kimballs of House on Fire.
To get inside the family mansion in Westchester and snoop around in Conrad’s study, Heller poses as Sukie’s date for the patriarch’s 80th-birthday party. Things go bad quickly when an old friend of Heller’s, also working undercover at the party for another Kimball daughter, is murdered that night. The job was already personal—an army buddy of Heller’s OD’d on Oxydone—but now he’s on a mission.
Conrad Kimball compares his children to scorpions, but Finder plays with our perceptions of them, gradually revealing different motivations and shadings of their personalities. And making Heller the son of an imprisoned “Dark Prince of Wall Street” creates an interesting contrast, not to mention a clever plot point. House on Fire’s foundation is the family dynamic, but ultimately this is a thriller, not a saga. There’s plenty here for action fans and spy gearheads; Heller can break into just about anything, anywhere, and he’s handy with his fists. House on Fire should satisfy devotees of this consistently strong series and win over new ones with its incisive portrait of a family that runs on greed.
It doesn’t take long to realize that many of the characters in Danish writer Katrine Engberg’s The Tenant are failed or frustrated artists. The book’s lead detective, Jeppe Kørner, studied acting; one young victim was a music prodigy whose career never took off. The murderer also has artistic aspirations. So it’s interesting that Engberg’s two careers—as a dancer and a writer—have turned out very well indeed. It’s hard to believe this is her first book, so assured is the writing. Her characters are fully realized, from the woebegone, recently divorced Kørner to Esther de Laurenti, the bohemian, red wine–loving landlady and former professor in whose building a young woman is murdered. Details like Kørner’s attempt to cheer himself up by peroxiding his hair, or his more prosaic partner’s fondness for dog videos, make these people relatable and lighten the mood.
It’s hard to believe this is Katrine Engberg’s first book.
The story is as complex as the characters. The young woman whose body is found in her apartment is the victim of an artist with a knife whose message baffles the police but is sickeningly familiar to de Laurenti, whose novel seems to be unfolding in real time as she shares it with a small writing group. As another dramatically staged murder is committed, Kørner considers an ever shifting cast of suspects that includes the first victim’s father, while the real perpetrator remains a smudge on the periphery.
Engberg’s previous life informs The Tenant’s colorful depiction of Copenhagen’s cultural scene—the art galleries and theater bars, backstage at the Royal Danish Theatre. I’m not sure what it means when the novel’s most successful artist turns out to be its most awful human being, but I suspect it’s dark satire from someone who’s been there. Originally published in Denmark in 2016, The Tenant is Engberg’s first book to be translated into English, but it’s unlikely to be the last.
Lisa Henricksson reviews mystery books for Air Mail. She lives in New York City