The bestselling Danish thriller writer Jussi Adler-Olsen ranks among Scandinavia’s top literary exports. A Conspiracy of Faith, the third entry in his Department Q series of detective novels, matches the first two books in suspense, intensity, and complexity. It’s a pleasure to read.
Department Q consists of three outcasts in Copenhagen police headquarters. Detective Inspector Carl Mørck is despised by most of his former colleagues in the homicide bureau, partly because he’s uncommonly rude and thoughtless and partly because he outshines so many of them. His two assistants are equally unwanted elsewhere.
A Conspiracy of Faith (Department Q #3) by Jussi Adler-Olsen (2013) 508 pages ★★★★★
Assad is a Syrian refugee who clearly once served in law enforcement in his homeland but will never admit to it (if in fact he’s Syrian at all). He was originally assigned to Department Q as a janitor, but Carl has come to rely on his obvious investigative skills.
Rose is a disagreeable young woman who only reluctantly and sporadically follows Carl’s orders even though she is technically his secretary. She, too, displays resourcefulness in the Department’s work. The trio has been exiled to the former storage closets in the basement of Police HQ. Their assignment: to clear cold cases. In other words, they were expected to disappear from sight. Of course, that’s not at all what happens.
As in the preceding volumes in the Department Q series, there’s a great deal going on in A Conspiracy of Faith. “The cauldron that was Copenhagen had gone off the boil for a moment,” the author writes. The homicide bureau is grappling with a series of arson fires, in each one of which a corpse was discovered. The news media are in an uproar over a continuing gang war between bikers and immigrants. Other crimes that come to light later are also unfolding. Meanwhile, Carl’s former partner, Hardy, now paralyzed from the neck down, has moved into his house, where Carl’s lodger cares for him; Carl’s 14-year-old stepson, Jesper, is moving in and out, and his ex-wife is making noises about returning. All the while, at Department Q, 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. The bottle had drifted from Denmark on the ocean current north to the Orkney Islands, eventually making its way to the Scottish police and only later to Copenhagen. There, it lay ignored on a windowsill for years until it came to the attention of Department Q.
As Carl ventures into the 13-year-old kidnapping case, it becomes clear that religious fanaticism was somehow involved. Soon, evidence surfaces that there may be more recent kidnapping incidents—and that serial murder is involved as well. Much of the ensuing action brings Carl and his assistants face to face with the stubborn insularity of the religious fanatics who adhere to the doctrines of Jehovah’s Witnesses and other Protestant splinter sects.
Meanwhile, Assad chances upon revealing evidence in a years-old arson case—evidence that eventually leads to the solution of the recent string of fatal fires. In a mystery written by another author, we would suspect that all these cases—kidnapping, serial murder, arson, and even gang warfare—would be closely linked. That’s not true here, though. Adler-Olsen doesn’t make things easy.
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