Posted on | August 8, 2011 | 5 Comments
It’s been a fantastic weekend, with Sunday seeing me curled up in bed for the better half of the day, with this fantastic thriller, and a big bag of M&Ms.
For me, it’s kind-of hard to imagine that Scandinavia has a dark underbelly. What with the strong economy, the idyllic fjords and the breathtaking mountains, it’s almost like a slice of heaven. Even the events in Oslo on July 22 seem so surreal… so un-Scandinavian, so wrong…
Steig Larsson’s Millennium trilogy put Scandinavian crime-fiction on the literary map, and since then, there seems to be a sudden emerge of crime fiction from the Nordic countries. Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Denmark-based thriller is the latest, and while it hasn’t won any accolades yet, it has spent over a year on the Danish charts, and the English translation seems to have gotten rave reviews. So, I just had to read it.
And I loved it. Finishing the five-hundred page thriller in a day – that should say it all, really. In fact, I would say it was superior to Larsson’s Millennium trilogy; if for nothing else, the book actually seems to be edited! And there is no product placement. Always a bonus.
Department Q is a newly opened department within Homicide for cold cases, and it’s headed by the lazy quirky detective, Carl Mørck. Mørck’s recovering from a hellish previous case, where one of his colleagues was killed and the other is still hospitalised, paralysed neck-down. Mørck is a difficult character to deal with – good at what he does, but non-conformist, brusque and slightly eccentric. So, when he’s relegated to this new department, with the help of his new assistant, Syrian immigrant, Assad, after much procrastination, Mørck starts tackling the cases sent down to his basement office. The fact of the matter remains that his colleagues want him out of their hair, and in no one really cares as to what happens down in Department Q. Oh, the politics at the workplace.
On the top of the pile is the case of Merete, a young beautiful politician who vanishes on a ship some five years earlier, without a trace. No one knows of her whereabouts, and there are no suspects. In a parallel narrative, we meet Merete, only to discover that she is still alive, and being held captive. She doesn’t know who the kidnappers are… but they keep asking her just the one question: to figure out why she’s being held. Merete’s narrative goes back in time, to a few weeks before the kidnapping, and it’s up to the reader to start figuring out the whodunnit.
Interleaving chapters explore Merete’s life – her reflections while being in a dark chamber of sorts, and the struggle to retain her sanity – and the investigation launched by the two members of Department Q. Merete’s a strong female protagonist, not a “wimpy heroine” which is refreshing. She’s not submissive, she’s not subservient, at any point, and she rationalises her way through the hell she is going through.
A multi-layered narrative, fast-paced chapters, a tinge of humour, interesting characters and a fantastic plot make this book absolutely unputdownable. As the mystery unravels, it is not incredibly challenging to put the pieces together, but there are enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing and biting her nails while reading the book.
So, if you’re a fan of crime-thrillers, I recommend this extremely highly. I’m already looking forward to the next book in this series. Where will Department Q go next?