Beginning with its publication of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in 2008, the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group has had great success with Scandinavian thriller authors in the U.S. Now Knopf chairman and editor-in-chief Sonny Mehta believes he has found another Swedish author who will be a bestseller in the States, but, unlike Larsson, this author has been published in America before.
Lars Kepler is the pen name of the Swedish husband-and-wife writing team of Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril and Alexander Ahndoril, and three of their six books featuring the detective inspector Joona Linna have been published here by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. But Swedish agent Niclas Salomonsson, founder of the Salomonsson Agency and a longtime Kepler fan, didn’t think the books were generating the sales in the U.S. they deserved. Rights to Kepler’s books were controlled by an agency co-owned by the authors and the Bonnier Group, but Salomonsson was so convinced of Kepler’s appeal he bought the agency in 2016 and reached an agreement with FSG to buy back U.S. rights.
After giving the English-language editions a close read, Salomonsson said he could tell why the books were not working in the U.S.: bad translations and bad editing. With the six Kepler titles selling more than 11 million copies around the world, Salomonsson said he “was stunned Kepler hadn’t made it big in the U.S.” But, he added: “After I read the translation I wasn’t stunned. They didn’t do justice to the original texts. American readers were not reading the real Lars Kepler.”
Before looking for a new American publisher for Kepler, Salomonsson hired Neil Smith, who had translated the fourth and fifth books in the series for the U.K. editions, to do new translations for the first three books. Armed with much-improved translations, Salomonsson’s first thought was to reach out to Mehta, because he believed Mehta would “know what he had” with Kepler. Salomonsson was so determined to get the books in front of Mehta quickly that he flew to New Delhi, where Mehta was spending a few weeks. (“It was my first time in India,” Salomonsson said.) The trip was worth it. Ten days after meeting, Salomonsson had a deal.
Reading The Sandman, Mehta said, he was impressed by the “propulsive nature of the story.” He added that “its protagonist is one of the scariest I’ve ever met” and that Kepler is “a major voice in the thriller genre.” Mehta acquired not only The Sandman, which will be released March 6, but three backlist titles and two future books. In addition to using new translations, Knopf is re-editing the books.
Mehta believes the series will appeal to Larsson fans as well as readers of Jo Nesbø, another Scandinavian author who has become a bestseller for Knopf. The publisher is planning to bring the Ahndorils to the U.S. for a 10-city tour to support the March release.
Paul Bogaards, executive director of media relations for Knopf, said the publisher will present the Ahndorils to American readers with fanfare akin to that given to promising debut authors. As part of its marketing push, Knopf has created a comprehensive media kit and lined up some high-profile endorsements. Lee Child, for example, has supplied a blurb for Sandman: “Sensational… like meeting Hannibal Lecter all over again—twice.”
The Kepler titles will also receive a boost from TV and film projects. Steve Golin, founder and CEO of Anonymous Content, has acquired film and TV rights to the six Joona Linna books. Golin’s credits include producing such Oscar-winning films as The Revenant and Spotlight and serving as producer of TV series such as 13 Reasons Why, Mr. Robot, and True Detective. The first Kepler project will be a TV series based on the first book, The Hypnotist. Simultaneously, Golin will develop a feature film based on The Sandman.
Following the March release of Sandman, Vintage will stagger the release of the previous three books in trade paperback next year: The Hypnotist in July, The Nightmare in September, and The Fire Witness in November.