The Hanging Girl – Jussi Adler-Olsen

This is the sixth in the author’s Department Q series, most* of which I have read and enjoyed. This one was no different. It’s a terrific, well written crime story with fine characters, an interesting backdrop, a decent plot, and the promise of more.

The main character is Detective Carl Morck. He and his somewhat off-the-wall colleagues live in the basement of the police headquarters, dealing with cold cases. Of course, their ways are not those of ordinary police, and they do not exactly make too many friends there. However, they are successful, and that’s what ensures their continued operation.

This particular case is sparked by a lead from a police officer about to go into retirement. Twenty years ago, a missing schoolgirl turned up dead, high up, hanging from a tree. The circumstances were never clear, and the person responsible for her death was never found. What can Department Q achieve?

The reader gets a peek behind the curtain, with a look inside the head of one potential candidate for the role of murderer. At the same time, the author continues to drop hints about the background of Morck’s colleagues, as well as the major incident in his own history. So, there are several strands going on here, all of which the author handles deftly and assuredly. The mystery is slowly unraveled, with the usual twists and turns, but not too many of them so as to break through the suspension of disbelief. And there are some seeds planted for future encounters.

One caveat I would give is that it would be best to come to this book after having read the previous five. The back stories are being developed, and starting here would be more of a struggle, and less enjoyable. In order, the previous five are: Mercy, Disgrace, Redemption, Guilt, and Buried. (For some reason, I didn’t blog about book five.)

Finally, a vote of thanks to William Frost for the translation.

[*Disgrace was the only one that I thought let down the side.]

Guilt – Jussi Adler-Olsen

The fourth in the Department Q series, this crime novel – about the investigative exploits and adventures of Carl Morck and his team of Assad and Rose – is continuing proof of the author’s high standards. It’s a finely meshed tale of several strands, well told, and featuring a raft of interesting, amusing, and enthralling characters.

It starts with a diversionary interest in a current case. It reminds Rose of an old case in their files: the 1987 disappearance without trace, of Rita Nielsen, an escort agency operator. Written off as a suicide, the case now piques Carl’s curiosity.

Whatever happened to Rita seems to be connected to Nete Hermansen. Her story is told in interspersed flashbacks, and we experience her dreadful life. In turn, her connection to Curt Wad, a fascist politician with a belief in eugenics, gives Department Q a lot to tackle. But tackle it, they do.

This time around the author gives Rose and Assad more prominent roles, and that works well in spreading the load, and adding a little sparkle to their interactions.

There are enough moments of tension and plot twists to satisfy the most demanding reader. But, without taking away any of the quality or the edge, the book also offers some commentary on Danish politics, past and present.

Great stuff.

Redemption – Jussi Adler-Olsen

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.

Spoiler alert!

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.

Highly recommended.