Carl Mørck, and his colleagues in Copenhagen’s Department Q, are the unusual characters who get to the bottom of the mystery of a message in a bottle. The bottle – washed up some time ago on a Scottish beach – eventually ends up at Q, where they seek to decipher the degraded message. The Danish for ‘Help’ is clear. But is this a real call for help, or a prank?
The author does a super job of creating believable and interesting characters, and not only the goodies. Mørck is no super hero, but a policeman trying to do his best. His Syrian assistant, Assad, is something of an unknown quantity; he is clearly hiding something in his background, but he is sharp, dedicated, and unwittingly funny as he mangles his sentences and mixes his metaphors and expressions. Rose is more complex, with a personality that may be fragile, but a spirit that is very much in tune with what Mørck wants to achieve.
It transpires that the bottle is about a real kidnapping. But although it is historical, the baddie is still in that mode. Why and how are intriguing and chillingly described, as the author delivers a sharply observed portrayal of a serial killing sociopath.
This is a well plotted, well told, tense and exciting novel. It’s revealed in a mix of flashbacks, and the episodes quickly accumulate into a picture of an out of control killer, seemingly flying well under the police radar – until now. The plot does have one or two twists, but it’s the characterization that stands out. However, do not think the author is content with just that, because through these characters he delivers some acidic comment on society and its woes, as well as the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of daily life. For example, Mørck’s interactions with the police hierarchy, and the state’s bureaucracy, are definite highlights.