The Fire Witness

By Lars Kepler

Translated by: Laura A. Wideburg
Read by: Mark Bramhall
Macmillan Audio 2013 | 15 hours | 12 CDs | $39.99

Reviewed by Michael Carey

Lars Kepler

Lars Kepler the bestselling literary couple out of Sweden is in top form with the third installation of their Joona Linna series, The Fire Witness. In this crime mystery novel, Joona has to solve an eerie double homicide at a home for troubled girls.

The caretaker is murdered in the old brewery on the grounds the same night one of the girls has her head smashed in and is placed carefully in her bed with her hands over her eyes. Another of the girls staying in the home, Vicky, flees her bloody room and goes on the run, kidnapping a four year old boy in the process.

Joona is under investigation from his previous adventures, most likely in Kepler’s The Nightmare, and has his wings clipped being a simple observer in the murder investigations. But if there are two things we learn about Joona in The Fire Witness, they are he has a keen set of detective skills and Joona Linna doesn’t give up.

He sifts through odd leads and mismatching bits of evidence, tracking down Vicky’s past. Even after the case is considered closed, Joona continues trying to fit the puzzle pieces together.

After losing her job as a nurse, Flora Hansen is forced to serve as a maid in the house of an abusive couple that fostered her in her youth. She struggles to make it on her own, trying to make money as a medium, pretending to contact the dead for grieving individuals and couples. Her situation becomes desperate when she steals money from her employers but isn’t making enough to pay it back in time. After learning about the death of the young girl and how she was found with her hands over her eyes, a young dead girl matching the description begins visiting Flora. At first she tries to extort money from the police for her information, but as the visions continue, it becomes imperative that she just be heard.

Lars Kepler is a master of the craft. I’ve listened to a few crime mystery audio books, and I feel comfortable saying, “This is one of the best I’ve heard.” The protagonist is as much the specimen you’d expect: strong, willful, gifted, intriguing.

But contrary to the failure of some other character-based series in making the hero almost superhuman, Joona is fearful, careful, flawed, and approachable. The short chapters are a plus for listeners on the go and almost set up scenes like watching the actions play out. Even when a chapter ends in the middle of a scene, we know the next chapter is going to take us in a new direction.

The choice to continue to use Mark Bramhall as the reader of yet another Lars Kepler novel is wise. His reading is moderately paced allowing his accurate pronunciations of Swedish titles to slide into the translated prose. His raspy, baritone voice is appropriate for a murder mystery, setting the mood for a misty night in the woods, the treacherous salvage mission, and the tense shootouts. The story slows toward the end, though, to develop Joona’s past and sets up the next book causing the last two-dozen or so chapters to feel anticlimactic but not out of place as Kepler entices the listener to continue the Joona Linna saga (in The Sandman) with an intriguingly unsettling closing.

The twists and misleading turns of The Fire Witness engage the listener to form theories of their own, making the novel all the more fun, suspenseful, and exciting. On reading the synopsis after finishing the audio book, I had several issues with the points they chose to build interest in the novel, but I did completely agree with one sentence: “The Fire Witness is a riveting listen, sure to join the ranks of its predecessors as an international sensation.”

If this is your genre, you’ll love this audio book. If it’s not, there is no better way to give it a try than listen to an author that knows what he or she (or they in the case of Lars Kepler) is doing.

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