Copenhagen detective Carl Mørck has been having a bad year. After being shot at a crime scene with his two associates, he is back at work but relegated to a basement office with the dubious distinction of being head of a new cold case department that consists of him and an assistant who seems to have a tentative grasp of the Danish language. He regards the new assignment as a punishment and responds with remarkable apathy. That is, until his realization that he can’t really pretend to be busy “setting up his office” anymore makes him actually pick up his case files. He randomly decides on a missing person case–the disappearance five years earlier of a rising young politician, presumed to have accidentally fallen off a ferry–as the subject of his first investigation. At first, his interest in the case is cursory at best, but then he starts to note inconsistencies and develop questions about the circumstances surrounding the disappearance. . . .
As I’ve mentioned a couple of times on this blog (here and here), I really enjoy Scandinavian murder mysteries. For that reason, Carol Ann suggested this book to me a few months ago and highly recommended it. Most of my previous Scandinavian crime excursions have been Norwegian, but I’m glad I broadened my horizons, comparatively speaking, with this Danish mystery. Thanks for the great suggestion, Carol Ann!
There are a lot of reasons I tend to enjoy Scandinavian murder mysteries (also frequently referred to as “Nordic Noir.”) Primarily, I enjoy their unsettling sense of atmosphere and their layered protagonists and the equally complex crimes they investigate. I thought Jussi Adler-Olsen’s book–the first in his Department Q series–continued this trend quite skillfully.
In my opinion, mystery series live and die (pun only partially intended) on the strength of their protagonists. The detective in question has to be engaging and competent but also believable.I thought the biggest strength of Adler-Olsen’s book was his fantastic protagonist, Carl Mørck. I’ve read (and watched) a lot of mysteries that revolve around damaged detectives, and it’s really easy to make that formula seem trite. So, I was pleasantly surprised at how Mørck manages to sidestep a lot of the stereotypes associated with detectives who are re-entering work after a traumatic case while still seeming like a real person. He’s definitely a talented investigator and is surprisingly determined for a guy who initially just wanted to sit at his desk and play computer games, but Adler-Olsen also doesn’t turn him into someone with superhuman skills. He’s occasionally wrong and isn’t always the one who finds a major clue–which is refreshing–but he also definitely knows what he’s doing. Even more importantly for me, he was a lot funnier than I was expecting him to be.
In fact, that may be the biggest tone difference I noted between this book and some of the others I’ve read in this genre. The book is definitely dark and unnerving in parts, but overall, I thought this book was a lot lighter than some of the other Nordic Noir I’ve read. I don’t know about the other books in the series, but this one was a lot less grim and disturbing than the Karin Fossum books I’ve read and substantially less gruesome and nightmare-inducing than the Jo Nesbø novels I’ve read.
In addition, the book features a great, twisty mystery. I developed a few possible theories about what had actually happened as I read–and one of them did turn out to be right!–but there were enough red herrings and possible alternate explanations that I never was entirely sure of what had actually occurred until Adler-Olsen was ready to reveal it. In addition, Adler-Olsen rotates between Mørck’s investigation and giving clues from the victim’s point of view in the weeks/years leading up to and following her disappearance, which lends even more depth to the story. The primary focus of the book is Mørck’s investigation over his personal life, which is my preference. (That being said, the glimpses into Mørck’s personal life were entertaining diversions. As with the professional scenes involving the police station, this book also benefits from the wide range of intriguing supporting characters.)
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. If you like Nordic Noir or are unfamiliar with it and looking for a good starting point, I definitely recommend this book. Personally, I was excited to learn that there were several more books in the series and that Adler-Olsen was still writing it.
Recommended for those who enjoy the work of Stieg Larsson, Arne Dahl, Mark Billingham, and Michael Connelly.
As always, if you want to learn more about this book or place a hold on it, just follow this link to our online library catalog.
What’s your favorite mystery series? Who’s your favorite crime writer? Do you like Scandinavian murder mysteries? Tell us in the comments!