Since 2007, Danish thriller writer Jussi Adler-Olsen has written seven bestselling novels in his ongoing series about Department Q at police headquarters in Copenhagen. All the principal characters in their own ways are misfits. Detective Carl Mørck has antagonized almost everyone else in the department and been exiled to the basement to head the new cold case unit. His assistant, Asaad, allegedly a Syrian immigrant, has a mysterious but doubtless violent past. The unit’s secretary, Rose, appears to suffer from dissociative identity disorder (“multiple personalities”). However, as a team they’re almost unbeatable. The Department Q thrillers explore their evolution.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
The Keeper of Lost Causes (2007) — Superb Scandinavian noir from Denmark
Department Q is formed at the insistence of a member of Parliament. But Carl learns that his boss is skimming off most of his budget to subsidize the homicide bureau. He extorts an assistant to clean the basement and make coffee for him. Thinking he will get even with Carl for blackmailing him, the head of homicide assigns a seemingly clueless Syrian refugee named Assad as the assistant. But it doesn’t take long before it’s clear that Assad is capable of much more than cleaning floors and making coffee. Read the full review.
The Absent One (2008) — A twisted tale of murder in Denmark
The file of a case from 1987 has mysteriously landed on Carl’s desk: a double homicide that the police consider solved because the confessed murderer has long been in prison. No one can explain to Carl how or why the file showed up on his desk. Since Carl is afflicted with an overwhelming desire to do the exact opposite of what he’s told to do, he insists on pursuing the case even when his boss, and his bosses’ boss, the chief of police, demand that he set it aside because it has already been solved. Read the full review.
A Conspiracy of Faith (2009) — A captivating tale of religious fanaticism, blackmail, and serial murder
In one of the most enthralling of the Department Q thrillers, Carl is attempting to find an interesting case to explore when a mysterious message in a bottle literally turns up. That message, we know, was written by a teenage Danish boy with Asperger’s Syndrome who was being held captive along with his older brother in a boathouse on the shore of a fjord north of the capital. It was a desperate, last-minute plea for help—and it was written 13 years ago. Read the full review.
The Purity of Vengeance (2010) — Forced sterilization, fascists, and serial murder—in Denmark
While investigating the unexplained disappearance of four people in 1987, Department Q takes on a politically fraught case involving a powerful fertility doctor who is widely rumored to have performed a great many abortions over the years, most of them not just illegal but unknown to the women. The doctor is a clever and articulate spokesperson for the new Fascist party and is steadily gaining adherents through frequent television and radio interviews. Read the full review.
The Marco Effect (2014) — Child soldiers, bank fraud, and eccentric police in a Danish thriller
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. We know there are connections among all these circumstances. But Carl Mørck doesn’t. Yet. Read the full review.
The Hanging Girl (2015) — From a bestselling Danish author, an intriguing detective novel
In 1997, a beautiful 19-year-old schoolgirl is killed by a hit-and-run driver on a road near the school she’s attending. Somehow, her body is throw up fourteen feet into a tree, where it remains hanging until a local police officer discovers her days later. The officer plunges into an obsessive investigation into her murder that spans nearly two decades. In the process, he drives his wife and son away and alienates everyone else around him. Now, in 2014, he calls detective Carl Mørck of the famous Department Q in Copenhagen in hopes Carl will take up the case. Carl, predictably, rude as ever, hangs up on him. Of course, we readers know well that Department Q will, in fact, take on the case. Read the full review.
The Scarred Woman (2016) — The latest addition to Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Department Q series
Like the six books that preceded it, it tells the story of how the small team in Department Q takes on several homicide cases simultaneously and discovers—lo and behold!—that they’re all connected. In the process, all three of Detective Carl Mørck’s “assistants,” Asaad, Rose, and newly assigned Gordon, manage to infuriate and astound him in new and sometimes highly creative ways. It’s just possible, we might guess, that all three of them are at least as smart as he is, if not more so. Read the full review.
Victim 2117 (Department Q #8) by Jussi Adler-Olson—The latest Department Q police procedural takes on terrorists
About that victim. She’s an older woman whose body has washed up on a beach in Cyprus, one of many victims from a boatload of Syrian refugees who perished in the Mediterranean. She is, in fact, the 2,117th refugee to die in the sea, or so the news media tell us. And this complex and deeply engrossing novel is all about the consequences of her death for five seemingly unconnected people: a Catalan reporter who sees the woman’s story as his mealticket; a deeply troubled teenage boy in suburban Copenhagen; an Iraqi terrorist leading a group of suicide bombers; Asaad himself; and, of course, Carl Mørck. Adler-Olsen does a brilliant job weaving these tales together, steadily building suspense toward a shattering conclusion.
For related reading
I’ve reviewed an entry in a newer series of Danish detective novels that’s also excellent: The Harbor (Kørner and Werner #3) by Katrine Engberg (A Nordic crime novel that’s not about a serial killer).
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