Let me start by saying that this is a book of crime fiction that made me cry. I expect suspense in crime fiction, and Jussie Adler-Olsen delivered (my children looked at me as I was reading the last 100 pages saying over and over, “I can’t stand it! Does she get rescued or not?”). I wouldn’t even be surprised at the kind of tears that come from emotional manipulation. (I cry over telephone commercials.) But it was genuine, tender, true human feeling that had me weeping.
Jussi Adler-Olsen, the Danish author of The Keeper Lost Causes, is one of the best loved and best sold Nordic authors of crime fiction. In Denmark last year, one million of his novels were sold. That’s right–last year–in a country with population 5.5 million. He’s also a bestseller in Germany and Austria, rather larger countries.
I’m sure he’s going to be here as well. I’m impressed and now also excited that his work is being translated into English, this novel the first of what I’m sure will be many, coming out August, 2011.
I’m gratified that I got an advanced reader’s copy so that I can tout his abilities not only in this genre but plainly and simply as a writer. The major characters are brilliantly conceived as an investigating duo. Carl Morck is a grumpy, slovenly detective whose flaws had previously been overlooked if not forgiven by his colleagues because of his effectiveness. However, ever since an investigation gone wrong, where one team member died and another was paralyzed, Morck has been indifferent and depressed and annoying.
The deputy chief comes up with a brainstorm: promote Morck up and down simultaneously. He is to be put in charge of a new department, Department Q, which will handle cold cases that, for political reasons, need to be seen to be still active. Nobody expects him to actually do anything in his new office down in the basement. And he is just as happy with that situation.
His new assistant, however, is not. The mysterious Assad, a refugee from the Middle-East, brings Morck back to life with his strong coffee, irrepressible spirit, keenness of mind and unusual connections. The pair of them are irresistible as partners.
The case they investigate concerns the disappearance of Merete Lynggaard, a rising politician, young, beautiful, intelligent, who has been missing and presumed dead for five years. The novel follows 2 interwoven strands: the present day police investigation, and the sequence of events from Merete’s point of view from prior to her disappearance onward.
It’s expertly done. At nearly 500 pages, the book didn’t feel long at all. I read it over a weekend, unwilling to put it down. And as the strands came closer and closer together in time, the suspense was almost unbearable. But more to the point, the novel isn’t just driven forward by a desire to know what happens. The journey is just as gripping. The full cast of characters and their interactions with Morck and Assad are engaging, written with humour and compassion. Here’s a small sample from the beginning of the partnership:
“Do you have a driver’s license?” he asked Assad, hoping that Marcus Jacobsen had forgotten to take that detail into account. If so, the whole question of the man’s employment could be taken up for discussion again.
“I have driven a taxi and a car and a truck and a T-55 tank and also a T-62 and armoured cars and motorcycles with and without sidecars.”
That was when Carl suggested that for the next couple of hours Assad should sit quietly in his chair and read some of the books on the shelf behind him. He turned around and grabbed the nearest volume, which he handed to his assistant. Handbook for Crime Technicians by Police Detective A. Haslund. Sure, why not? “Pay attention to the sentence structure while you’re reading, Assad. It can teach you a lot. Have your read much in Danish?”
“I have read all the newspapers and also the constitution and everything else.”
“Everything else?” said Carl. This wasn’t going to be easy. “So do you like solving Sudoku puzzles?” he asked, handing Assad the magazine.
If only you were here in person, I’d make tea and talk much more about this book, but as a second best option, I recommend you pre-order it.