“These stories are a way for us to manage our own fears of people’s cruelty. Writing about Joona Linna and Saga Bauer represents a journey from chaos to order, questions to answers, injustice to justice.”
– Lars Kepler
Enter the world of Lars Kepler. Following fictional detectives Joona Linna and Saga Bauer, Kepler’s thrillers draw readers into the dark underbelly of idyllic Sweden. Through Kepler’s stories, readers will delve into the minds of unforgettable villains, explore the streets of Stockholm, and follow the clues to solve chilling mysteries.
Here you can learn about your favorite characters in the Kepler universe, and uncover information about Kepler’s backstory, writing process, and much more in their FAQs.
Joona Linna is a Detective Superintendent at the police’s National Operations Department.
Joona is tall and muscular as one can only be after decades of hard training, when all the muscle groups, sinews, and ligaments are working in unison. His eyes are grey as polished granite, his cheekbones are high, and his blond hair tousled. He wears a dark suit and a white shirt open at the collar. Usually he carries his heavy Colt Combat in a shoulder holster under his right arm.
Joona’s parents emigrated to Sweden from neighboring Finland when they were young. Finns constitute the largest group of immigrants in Sweden, and have always been a target of racism and prejudice.
Joona’s father, Yrjö, was a policeman, and his mother Ritva a housewife. When Joona was twelve, his father was killed on duty by a man with a shotgun at a domestic incident. Joona’s mother had no income, their savings ran out, and she and Joona were forced to move out of their house into a one-room flat in a poor suburb. His mother took all the jobs she could get as a stairwell cleaner, and Joona worked every day after school in a wood yard. They had no TV, but his mother borrowed books at the public library, which they read and talked about until late into the nights.
After sixth form, Joona did his military service as a paratrooper, was recruited into Special Operations, and qualified for special training in the Netherlands in mixed close combat, innovative weaponry, and urban guerrilla warfare.
Joona left the military, went to the police academy, and is now an operational superintendent at the National Crime Police in Stockholm. His poor background and Finnish accent make him something of an underdog in society and in the police force – which is why he has learned to walk his own path.
He is a highly skilled crime investigator and his empathic personality gives him the ability to look beyond the image of the perpetrator as monster. He understands those who commit crimes, sees their fear and suffering, and perceives their desperate choices. This is most likely the reason why he has solved more complicated murder cases than any other police officer in Scandinavia.
Despite his unconventional methods, through the years he has gained the respect of his colleagues, and they are all aware of the great tragedy in Joona’s life, this being the loss of his wife Summa and his daughter Lumi.
After the loss of his family, Joona has continued to live with a feeling of being doomed to loneliness, and that those who get close to him have to disappear.
Saga Bauer is an Operational Superintendent at the Swedish Security Service.
She is astonishingly beautiful with her fair skin, slender neck and clear blue eyes. Often she entwines colourful bands into her long, blonde hair. Most people who meet her the first time feel almost weak, as if something is breaking up inside. She carries a Glock 21 in a shoulder holster under an unzipped track suit top with a hood, stamped with the name of Narva Boxing Club.
In Sweden everyone knows about the legendary fairy tale illustrator and artist, John Bauer. His younger brother was Saga’s great-grandfather. Oddly enough, Saga is rather like the luminous princess standing fearlessly before the darkish trolls.
Saga’s father Lars-Erik is a cardiologist and her mother Maj was a barrister. When Saga was very young they lived in a beautiful house in Djursholm.
Saga never speaks to anyone about how she was alone at home with her mother on the night she gave up, after a long struggle with cancer that had spread to her brain.
Although she was only seven, she helped her mother take her painkillers and tried to console her. Saga has never been able to forgive her father for leaving the family when her mother was most sick. Unable to endure his faithlessness, she has not met with him since she turned eighteen.
Saga graduated from police high school with very good grades and afterwards received special training at the Security Police. Although her career has been slowed up by sexism and structural unfairness, she is now a superintendent with both investigative and operational responsibility.
Saga has been a boxer at elite level, goes running daily, spars or fights at least twice a week, and keeps her worried mind in check by target-shooting with a pistol or the police’s competition rifle 90.
Saga lives on Tavastgatan, and drives a Triumph Speed Triple with a dented silencer and a scratched fairing.
She has ended up working with Joona Linna in a number of big investigations. They trust each other utterly and she knows that he respects her and regards her as his sister.
Jurek Walter is one of Europe’s worst serial killers and the only human being that Joona Linna truly fears.
Jurek Walter’s thin face is covered by a web of wrinkles and his light eyes are utterly calm. His aging body is sinewy, his hands big. He dresses in flannel shirts, jeans and heavy boots. Jurek Walter doesn’t sexualize violence and neither is he a sadist. To him, killing is straightforward and definite, like an unavoidable physical labour.
Jurek’s mother died when she gave birth to his brother, Igor. The brothers grew up in the cosmodrome of the secret city of Leninsk in Kazakhstan. Their father was a highly regarded astrophysicist and spent his days constructing an intercontinental ballistic robot.
Because of the race between the United States and the Soviet Union, it was only a matter of time before disaster struck.
When a robot exploded and killed one hundred and twenty-two engineers and technicians, their father knew that he, one of the few remaining survivors, would be made the scapegoat. He decided to flee to Sweden with his sons.
At first, he thought this new country would be eager to use his extraordinary knowledge of physics, but instead he found that the only job he could get was as a workman in a gravel pit.
One evening when the boys were playing in the big sand piles, even though it was forbidden, they were discovered by the foreman. The brothers were taken into custody by the social authorities. Their father tried in vain to get his sons back, but he had no documents to prove that they were his.
Igor’s deportation was delayed when he got pneumonia, but Jurek was immediately sent back to Kazakhstan.
After escaping from Pavlodar’s orphanage, Jurek was captured by a Chechen guerilla group and got his basic training as a soldier in a mountain village in the Caucasus.
Jurek’s platoon smuggled weapons and drugs, looted select villages, mutilated and raped the women, and tortured and executed all men who were too old to be recruited.
Jurek learned everything there is to know about killing before he leaving his life as a soldier behind, after more than 20 years.
He found Igor at the Serbski Institute mental hospital and brought him with him to Sweden. But when the brothers finally reached the gravel pit, it was too late. Their father had given up hope of finding his sons and hung himself.
Jurek remembered the foreman, the social worker, and the deportation order, and decided to take from them all the people who had ever meant anything to them. He would watch as they continued to live – going to work, eating their food, watching TV – until the horrific moment when they realized they were already dead.
Jurek learned everything there is to know about killing before he leaving his life as a soldier behind…
It wasn’t anything supernatural – just an ice-cold grasp of human weakness.
Together with his colleague Samuel Mendes, Joona Linna discovered a remarkable deviation in the statistics of missing people. It turned out to be the clue that led them to the worst serial killer of all time in Northern Europe.
Their private investigation work eventually lead them to the arrest in Lill-Jansskogen. They approached a glade with an excavated grave. An emaciated woman was trying to get out of the coffin but was repeatedly being pushed back in by Jurek.
As Joona and Samuel conducted the interrogations leading up to the main hearing, they gradually came to realize that Jurek was getting into the head of everyone he was given access to. It wasn’t anything supernatural – just an ice-cold grasp of human weakness.
Jurek’s plan was for Joona or Samuel to say that there was a possibility that he was innocent, and that he had, in fact, happened to find the tomb and tried to help the woman out when they saw him in the glade.
But because Joona knew Jurek was guilty and couldn’t let him go free, he lied in the courtroom about the arrest, claiming that he had heard Jurek tell the woman the he would leave her to die in the grave.
Jurek was sentenced to indefinite forensic psychiatric care with extraordinary rules regarding security and discharge reviews. Before leaving the courtroom, Jurek Walter turned to Joona and said, “Your little daughter Lumi will disappear, your wife Summa will disappear, and once you’ve understood that you will never find them, you will hang yourself.”
Jurek Walter was placed in an isolation cell in the bunker deep beneath the forensic psychiatric security ward at Löwenströmska Hospital. Interaction with other patients is forbidden, as is going outdoors: he has no contact with the outside world.
The diagnose reads: Schizophrenia, unspecified. Chaotic thinking. Recurring, acute psychotic conditions with bizarre and extremely violent elements.
Doctor Erik Maria Bark specializes in psychotraumatology, is a member of the European Society of Hypnosis, and is widely considered to be the world’s foremost authority on clinical hypnosis.
Erik is of medium height, his hair is thick and greying, and he has a friendly face with laugh lines. He dresses casually in trousers and shirts, his sleeves rolled up. He’s charming, passionate but at the same time vain, something which has often put him in big trouble.
Erik grew up in Sollentuna, north of Stockholm. His mother worked half-time as a school nurse while his father was an employee of the Social Insurance Agency, and enjoyed doing magic in his spare time.
Erik went on to study medicine right after high school, specializing in psychology.
For five years he worked for the Red Cross in Uganda, where he met with traumatized patients. It was there that he first began to practice hypnosis to help the patients cope with their memories.
When Erik returned to Stockholm, he applied for funding from the Medical Research Council, wanting to deepen his understanding of hypnosis and trauma treatment. Shortly after, he met Simone at a big party at the university and they fell in instant love. After a series of miscarriages, they finally had a son, Benjamin. He has von Willebrand’s disease and needs regular injections of clotting factor concentrates for his blood to coagulate.
Erik is passionate about hypnosis, and after his pioneering research on deep hypnotic group-therapy was stopped, he developed a pill addiction.
Lars Kepler simply appears when Alexander and Alexandra write crime fiction novels together. It is a voice that is so much bigger than our individual ones combined. Lars Kepler has a unique tone, great momentum, and a strange need to dive headfirst into extreme situations. We don’t think of him as a person that much anymore, but we do know that he is a bearded and quiet former high school teacher, an avid reader, works at a homeless shelter at night, and writes with a passion during the day.
It is wonderful to be an author, we enjoy the happiness it brings us every day, but there is also a backside to it – the solitude. The profession of author is one of the most lonely there is in the world. Most authors can never let someone else into their creative world during the writing process. Many of us have made the mistake once or twice, not being able to resist talking about what it is you’re writing, and then felt how the magic disappears and the story dies. This knowledge means that you can’t share what it is you are thinking of or experiencing during the hours of the day, unable to even discuss it with your colleagues.
By writing together we have broken that barrier of loneliness. Instead we are now having an endless conversation about what it is we are writing, from the moment we wake up, throughout the day, till the point we make dinner and go to bed.
Many authors who work together write every other chapter or divide up the characters, but we don’t. We do everything together. During the actual writing process we switch texts with one another all the time, which means that we constantly give one another impulses to react to, something that inevitably pushes us into an amazing creative flow. Pretty soon we don’t even know who wrote what to start with – and that’s when we know that Lars Kepler has taken over.
To write a book is a fragile and intimate thing, and for some a new identity is the only way to experience artistic and creative freedom during the writing process. The reasons why Stephen King, J. K. Rowling and Joyce Carol Oates have used pseudonyms of course differ, but for us it was a necessary choice to even begin to work together. No matter how much you appreciate one another’s authorship, no matter how much you love one another as human beings, it’s not always certain that you’ll be able to write together. It might sound strange, but for us the key to our common fount of creativity was to create a new author.
We didn’t tell anyone when we wrote our first book The Hypnotist; not even our children knew, or the publishing house that published us. Our intent was to stay hidden forever, but just like Elena Ferrante, we were revealed after much speculation and months of being chased by the media.
The big advantage is that you get to return to your main protagonists book after book, and get to know them more and more. A challenge is of course that you have to have all the novels fresh in mind, remember all that has taken place (and to some extent predict what will happen). Since we strive to have characters with a believable psychology and an emotional continuity, events in earlier books have to be reflected in the characters’ lives without ruining the experience for readers who chose to read the books in a different order.
Lars is a homage to the Swedish crime fiction author Stieg Larsson as he inspired us to start writing crime fiction. He breathed new life into the Swedish crime writing tradition in a way that sparked our own creativity. The name Kepler comes from the German scientist Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), who solved one of his time’s greatest mysteries: it was his calculations of the planets’ orbits that paved the way for Newton’s theses about gravity.
Research is incredibly important to us. Crime fiction has one foot placed in fantasy and one in reality. The suspense builds entirely on credibility. So even though we like to portray extreme situations the principle is that everything should be able to occur in reality.
We read forensic science, forensic medicine protocols, interrogation psychology and operative tactics, talk to doctors, police and psychologists, visit crime scenes, prisons, and psychiatric wards, try out guns and combat scenes, and do a whole lot of other strange things.
We are not aiming to be unusually brutal or bloody, but what happens has to feel real, to the smallest detail. It entails a big emotional strain for us to place ourselves so close to the victim, close to their fear and pain, but it is a necessity – for us writing is about empathy.
Alexander grew up in Upplands Väsby, twenty kilometers north of Stockholm. He has always been an avid reader, but wanted to be a painter in his youth. For many years he produced big oil paintings inspired by Caravaggio. He practiced Muay Thai and was accepted into a ranger unit, moved to central Stockholm and studied philosophy, religion, and film at university. His first novel was picked up when he was only nineteen. Before he began writing as Lars Kepler he had already penned nine novels, twenty theatre plays, and one opera libretto.
Alexandra grew up in southern Sweden. She discovered early on that she wanted to become an actress and attended the National Academy of Mime and Acting in Stockholm. She thereafter got a Master’s Degree in literary science, was hired as a PhD student at university, and began writing a dissertation on the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. She produced three historical novels before she began writing in collaboration with Alexander.
Alexander and Alexandra married in 1994 and have three daughters together. They live in central Stockholm.
We feel much like the painter and poet William Blake expressed it, “The imagination is not a state: it is the human existence itself.” We are always in the middle of writing something, but the time we spend in front of the computer working varies according to our children’s schedules. After saying good-bye to the children as they go off to school, we take our morning coffee to the computer and write non-stop till they come back home and need help with their homework.
After coming up with an exciting core idea, the first step of the writing process is to plan out the plot. It can take us months. We cover a big wall with pieces of paper describing key scenes and discuss the characters’ choices of action. We see this wall full of notes as the score for our coming jam session, when the music will be born and anything can happen. To write is to always listen to what is happening inside, and to anchor each moment and each character in personal experience.
It is hard to say how something comes into being in the depths of your creativity. You start to write and see how the new worlds slowly open up before you. As you go along you encounter different characters and linger on some. You become curious, try to get to know them better, and give them room to speak and act.
We knew that we would need some very special heroes to dare to venture into the darkness that waited in our stories. Already the first time we came into contact with Joona we understood that he was the one we needed, but he wasn’t just a hero, he was also a man with a mystery inside of him. We also realized almost immediately that he was too big of a character for just one book. He is an unconventional detective superintendent who is unable to give up on things because of his past.
We have started to think that perhaps the most unusual thing about Joona is that he hasn’t become jaded despite his many years as an inspector and past in the elite forces. What makes him so skilled is that he is driven by empathy, and forces himself to remain at a crime scene until he can read the blood spatters like the pages of a book.
Then Saga Bauer and her bad temper suddenly showed up in The Nightmare. Saga is an inspector at the Security Service, an interrogation expert and elite boxer. She is beautiful like a fairytale princess, but has a horrible temperament. She has always run from her past, never wanting to think about it. Her mother was mentally ill and Saga has locked her own madness into a dark room. She doesn’t know how long she will be able to keep it there.
We hold it close to our hearts ever since our childhood summers spent in the company of Sjöwall & Wahlöö. When we began writing as Lars Kepler it was an effort to repay a tradition that has given us so much. Crime fiction is of course distinctively entertainment-oriented, but it is also something more, something bigger. For us it is a genre that thanks to its amplified scenarios is ideally suited to discussing the human condition and society’s shortcomings.
In Scandinavia, crime fiction reading is almost a popular movement, a huge cultural happening outside the literary establishment’s prescribed diet. You don’t read crime fiction because it is good for you or laudable, but because it is thrilling and unsettling.
Yes, every book can be read as a stand-alone. There is always a new case for Joona Linna to solve, a mystery that is given its explanation at the end. In each novel we also usually introduce a new set of main characters whose fates no one can predict at the start.
It is these new characters and the solved cases that make each book its own complete story. But if you chose to read the books in order you will also be able to follow the full story of Joona Linna and Saga Bauer. They are both after all our main protagonists for the entire series, and their strange lives are mysteries of their own.
As long as we live in cultures with a written language, reading will live on. Like everything reading grows and decreases in popularity, but we think that right now more and more people are realizing that one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is to sit down with a book for a few hours. To travel somewhere with an author in your own imagination, your own feelings, is an enormous luxury.
It wouldn’t be wrong to look at the crime fiction novel as the great chronicle of our time, something that scrutinizes our world as it is here and now, from modern family constellations to the extremes of violence. Our awareness of death and the set of ethical dilemmas that this awareness brings us has been discussed and dramatized for the benefit of a great audience in all ages – from Sophocles and Homer to Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, and Joseph Conrad.
We are curious people, and look at the world with open eyes. We are inspired by everyone and everything. We read an incredible number of books, see films and art, travel and meet people. But we also have a very lively imagination to start with. That is both a blessing and a curse. We can easily imagine how a nice situation can turn into a nightmare. When writing that is a good quality to have, but at other times it can be a negative.
The definite inspiration usually comes to us as we come together as the writing duo of Lars Kepler, when we exchange texts or discuss plot. We jump headfirst into our fears, the goal always being to solve the mysteries and restore order in the world again. Maybe it is actually that which we love the most about this genre. The stories begin in chaos and end in order, start with riddles and end with answers.
Even if a plot involves a lot of framework, avoid external constructions. Reading isn’t really about admiring the author’s cleverness and intelligence, but sharing experiences and feelings. For that reason, don’t think about what others want to read or how you will scare your audience, but listen to yourself, look for your own vulnerability, and always try to portray feelings instead of explaining them. To write is to turn your ears inward and anchor each moment and each character in the personal. If you yourself are scared then you’re on the right track; if you get tears in your eyes and have a hard time sitting still on your chair as the killer phones your protagonist, then you are already more than halfway there.
When you write you should avoid looking back for as long as you can. Write, write, and write. Just keep going. All authors produce bad text. It doesn’t matter since it can be removed later on, once you have succeeded in capturing what it is you are after. For instance you might find a strong piece of dialogue by letting the characters talk to one another from the moment they meet. It can turn into a ten-page conversation that is later cut down to five succinct sentences, right where the conflict starts. You shouldn’t be afraid to cut, re-evaluate and improve your text, but wait till you have a firm grasp of the sequence (a group of scenes that go together).
Even though it is generally the right thing to do to dig where you stand, to use environments that you know, professions or situations that you have an insight into, we also want to advise you to invest in thorough research. It takes time, but gives you so much back in return.
Your story has to work from each character’s perspective. Even a killer will make logical decisions based on their situation and psychological disposition – at one certain moment in time, murder is the best solution to their problem. If we had to pick a word that describes our aspiration as crime fiction writers, it would be “empathy”.