There's something about the frozen vistas and the unpronounceable street names of Sweden that seem to lend themselves to crime fiction. Stieg Larsson proved the point with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. And now comes a new thriller tipped to be this summer's Nordic hit. It's called The Hypnotist. It's by the Swedish writer Lars Kepler.
Except it turns out Lars Kepler doesn't actually exist. He's a pseudonym for the husband-and-wife writing team of Alexander Ahndoril and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril.
"I am Lars," Alexandra tells NPR's Mary Louise Kelley.
"And I am Kepler," Alexander continues.
"Lars Kepler is not Alexandra or Alexander. It's us two writing crime fiction together," Alexandra said.
The duo reveals that because each was already a published writer in Sweden, they wanted to create a new identity through which to write crime novels.
"We actually wanted to stay secret forever," Alexander said. "That was the idea, but it lasted for three weeks."
The true identity of Lars Kepler — whose name is a joint tribute to Stieg Larsson, author of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo books, and German scientist Johannes Kepler — kept the Swedish media enthralled, until a journalist was able to track down the couple in their summer home.
"They even had a telephone line where you could call and give tips about who Lars Kepler was," Alexandra said.
In The Hypnotist, a Stockholm family is brutally murdered and the only surviving witness is the family's teenaged son. In critical condition, the son is too weak to talk, and the investigators of the case decide to hypnotize him in the hopes of leading him to provide clues as to the identity of the murderer.
"One thing that we were really fascinated with was getting inside the head of the perpetrator," Alexandra says. "We thought that a hypnotist can actually get inside the head of a person and see the memories and the hidden, hidden things."
The violence in the book is largely carried out by women and children, a decision the couple says was crucial because they aspired to write about things that scared them. They have three daughters and during the writing of The Hypnotist, they fed off the "frightening" thought of their daughters turning evil.
"You will 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," Alexandra says. "We were so scared ourselves."
Alexander notes that Swedish crime literature seems to traffic in darker subject matter than Americans are used to.
"In some way the Swedish society is a very good society, almost perfect on the surface," he said. "That is something that makes the writers forced to see what is underneath the surface ... We do feel safe in Sweden. That's why we can --"
"Write these terrible books," Alexandra continues.
"And explore what is frightening in the world," Alexander finishes.