Cover image of "The Marco Effect," a thriller involving child soldiers

In a region of Cameroon populated by people outsiders call pygmies, a Danish development project has gone off the rails. Then, shortly after a visitor from the Danish foreign ministry is glimpsed on a visit, the local liaison between the project and the Danes is brutally murdered. Back home in Denmark, one of the foreign ministry officials involved in the project goes missing. We’ve learned that a senior official in the ministry and top executives at a Copenhagen bank are involved in a massive fraud. Meanwhile, troubles mount for a 15-year-old boy who is enslaved as a thief and a beggar by a band who style themselves Gypsies. And child soldiers are somehow involved. We know there are connections among all these circumstances. But Carl Mørck doesn’t. Thus begins Jussi Adler-Olsen‘s newest Department Q thriller, The Marco Effect.

Detective Inspector Carl Mørck and his unlikely sidekicks, Asaad and Rose, take on the official’s disappearance despite being warned off the case. All three have a long history of doing exactly what they want—and nothing more. Carl thinks of the two as unstoppable: “The two of them together were like a herd of stampeding gnu on the plains of Africa. Heads down and full steam ahead, and if he wasn’t going to join in, he’d better get out of the way.”

The Marco Effect (Department Q #5) by Jussi Adler-Olsen (2014) 484 pages ★★★★☆

Until now, they’ve been able to get away with acting only on their own because they close cases at an unusually high rate for the Copenhagen police force. But now their boss, the head of the homicide department, is retiring unexpectedly. And his boss, no friend of Carl’s, is moving temporarily into the job. To keep an eye on the three misfits of Department Q he assigns an awkward third-year law student as a spy, thus complicating the team’s efforts to uncover the truth behind the official’s disappearance and presumed death.

A Danish investigation that involves child soldiers

As Mørck, Asaad, and Rose dig into the circumstances of the official’s disappearance, more complications arise. That 15-year-old-boy, Marco, emerges as the central figure in the case. The boss’ spy frustrates the investigation with inappropriate and unauthorized questions directed at suspects. All the while, Marco is on the run from the head of the “Gypsy” clan, who wants him dead for defying him.

It’s all a fine mess—an investigation that’s far more complicated than it has any right to be. But, as the three hapless investigators in Department Q stumble toward a resolution, it’s a whole lot of fun.

Go to Jussi-Adler Olsen’s Department Q thrillers for links to my reviews of the whole series. And for a guide to the best Scandinavian mysteries and thrillers, check out The best Nordic noir series from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland.

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