The more famous Scandinavian crime novels have come from Sweden and Norway, but with this entry Denmark shows it has a grittier side, too. This Danish thriller was exactly that, thrilling. People use the phrase "page-turner" far too often. But it applies in this case. Plan on putting everything else in your life on hold if you pick up this book.
Curmudgeonly police detective Carl Mørck was injured on the job. One of the other members of his team was killed and another drastically injured in the same incident. He now has survivor's issues to add to his general discontentment. After recovering from his injuries, he has been assigned to head the new "Department Q" to examine cold cases one last time, a putative promotion. In fact, it is solitary confinement. He heads to his new office in the basement. He wants to shut the door, prop his feet up on his desk, and smoke forbidden cigarette after cigarette. If only his office door weren't off its hinges and propped against the corridor wall.
There is no one else in Department Q, just Carl. Using creative blackmail, Carl finagles an assistant, someone who will make his coffee and tidy the non-existent case files. Hafez el-Assad, a Syrian immigrant who proves elusively cagier than everyone had thought, is whimsically assigned to Carl. He is not a police officer but a civilian with a prayer rug, savory smelling foreign delicacies, and an off-and-on vagueness.
Carl and Assad are quite the charming and eccentric couple.
Crime novels these days rely heavily on the intertwined storylines. This book also uses this gimmick, but how well Jussi Adler-Olsen handles it! Carl and Assad's trials and tribulations run as the main story in 2007. A separate story set in 2002 runs alongside, with a young female politician named Merete Lynggaard as the subject. Although she was under pressure from the many political issues the Danish Parliament had to juggle, her main concern was the guardianship of her brother Uffe, who was injured in a terrible car accident that killed their parents many years before. While traveling on a ferry with Uffe, Merete disappeared. Police determined that she either fell accidentally from the deck of the ferry or she was pushed. The case was put on the back burner after no leads could be found. Then it wends its way to Carl's desk in 2007.
Five years after the kidnapping, Carl is not motivated to find out what happened. He resents his "demotion," has panic attacks, has alienated almost everyone in his work and personal lives with his churlishness, and doesn't want to be bothered. However, he's still a good detective at heart. With providential legwork provided by Assad and fueled by the outrage Carl feels at how shoddily the case was processed the first time, clues slowly slip out and pieces begin to fit together about what really happened to Merete.
After almost 400 pages, the conclusion is stunning and satisfying.