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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Happy birthday, Jussi Adler-Olsen! (Reviews of THE KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES and THE HANGING GIRL)

Today is the 66th birthday of Jussi Adler-Olsen, the Danish writer of the Department Q novels. 
There are six books in the series thus far:                               The Keeper of Lost Causes
                                                                                                The Absent One
                                                                                                A Conspiracy of Faith
                                                                                                The Purity of Vengeance
                                                                                                The Marco Effect
                                                                                                The Hanging Girl
If you haven’t read these crime novels, they are definitely worth checking out.  The books, about a special police division that investigates cold cases, routinely top the bestseller lists in northern Europe.

On the occasion of the author’s birthday, I’m posting my review of the first book in the series and the most recent one.

Review of The Keeper of Lost Causes
4 Stars
The Keeper of Lost Causes: The First Department Q Novel (Department Q Series Book 1) by [Adler-Olsen, Jussi] 
This is the first of the Department Q series featuring Detective Carl Morck and his assistant Assad. The two men comprise the entire staff assigned to investigate high-profile cold cases but relegated to a windowless basement office.

They decide to re-open the case of the disappearance of a promising politician, Merete Lynggaard, who went missing off a ferry when accompanying her mute, handicapped brother on a weekend getaway. No body was ever found. Did she accidentally fall over? Did she commit suicide? Was she kidnapped or killed? The novel is narrated from two perspectives; the reader follows Carl and Assad as they investigate but flashbacks reveal Merete's torturous fate.

The strength of this book is characters. Carl is definitely flawed. He can be lazy, morose and rebellious; in short, he is rough, tough and gruff. To complicate matters, he is dealing with post-traumatic stress and survivor's guilt after a shooting left one partner dead and another paralyzed. He also has a problem with relationships. His relationship with colleagues is antagonistic at best. Nonetheless he is a topnotch detective with unerring instincts.

Assad is a mysterious figure with a past he will not discuss. Wht soon becomes obvious, however, is that he has an amazing aptitude for and great insight into detective work. He manages to enervate Carl by reawakening his professional curiousity as he succeeds again and again in finding nuggets of useful information.

Together, Carl and Assad make for interesting foil characters. Carl seems devoted to his grumpiness and laziness, while Assad is indefatigably cheerful and hard-working. A dynamic between the detective and his sidekick develops over the course of the novel. Eventually they find a mutual respect.

What also makes this book so enjoyable is that it totally involves the reader who will experience a gamut of emotions: humour, heartbreak, and stomach-twisting suspense. The reader will probably puzzle out the mystery but following Carl and Assad as they investigate is engrossing.

This book has it all: it is fast-paced; it introduces characters the reader will want to meet again; the case is complex but not too difficult to follow. The Keeper of Lost Causes is a keeper.

Review of The Hanging Girl
4 Stars
Department Q is back. Carl, Assad and Rose are joined by an additional member, Gordon. This time they investigate a case from 17 years earlier. Alberte Goldschmid was found hanging from a tree on Bornholm, one of the Danish islands. The policeman, who found her body and became obsessed with discovering who was driving the vehicle that hit her, commits suicide but not before bequeathing the case to Department Q. The investigation has them delving into a sun-worshiping cult from whose centre, the Nature Absorption Academy, people are disappearing.

This is the sixth Department Q novel, and I would advise readers to read them in order since each one adds to character development. As in the previous books, we learn a bit more about Assad’s mysterious past though not all is revealed. Apparently there are four more books to the series.

The book excels at showing the road an actual police investigation takes – with twists, turns, and dead ends. This does not make for a fast-paced story, but ensures a more realistic plot. What also unifies the plot is the theme of jealousy. The reader sees several examples of how people react to a perceived threat to a relationship. The resolution does have some surprises, but logic is not sacrificed.

As in the other books in the series, there are humourous touches. The banter between the members of the department continues.

If you have not already discovered this Danish mystery series, do check it out. As Queen Elizabeth II says in Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader, “Can there be any greater pleasure . . . than to come across an author one enjoys and then to find they have written not just one book or two . . . “?