Sunday, March 11, 2012

Darkness Prevails

Darkness, thy name is Seattle, at least in winter.  Fortunately, the clocks have just sprung forward and while there are some heavier clouds approaching, there were at least a couple of sun rays shining through today.  That, and a nice bunch of daffodils on my counter, tells me spring and the time for more light is imminent. 

Perhaps it is the very darkness here that draws me to Scandinavian crime fiction.  What is it about the Scandi-crime writers that make their work so dark?  Is it their lack of light in winter or do they have something else going on?  I'm curious but whatever it is, I’m enjoying it, even if there is some unadulterated evil in the stories told.  I’ve made the rounds through Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell and to some extent, Jo Nesbø.  With each series, I’ve found brilliant but exceptionally flawed anti-social heroes who generally have an array of unhealthy habits and a lack of consideration for those who would befriend them.  To these, I’ve added Danish author, Jussi Adler-Olson, who is new to American audiences with his Department Q series.
Our protagonist, Carl Mørck, has just returned to the police force.  Physically, he has mostly recovered from the shooting that left one partner dead and the other permanently paralyzed, but the trauma of the attack is still with him.  For his boss, he’s an enigma.  Like most brilliant detectives, he solves cases.  Unfortunately, he’s not a guy others like to play with.  The only partners who worked well with him are out of the picture, so what to do with Carl is now a problem.  The police have been given money to develop a task force, Department Q, which will focus on cold cases.  They delegate Department Q to Carl and have him set up his office in Siberia, also known as the basement, far from the rest of the force.  He’s also assigned a somewhat quirky Muslim immigrant named Assad to be his assistant/office cleaner.  Problem solved. 

In The Keeper of Lost Causes, Carl’s first case is to discern what happened to a political leader who disappeared five years ago.  She is presumed drowned but her body has never been found.  What has happened to her is so far beyond most people’s comprehension, that at times, I found it challenging to read.  Yet, I had to find out how the story progressed, despite my personal abhorrence of her situation, and so I soldiered on.  It was well worth it.

Much to Carl’s surprise, he and Assad work well together as a team.  Between them, they begin to unravel what nobody else has been able to do since the women vanished.  Though he’s very different from what Carl is used to, Assad has a curious and intelligent mind; there is more to Assad than meets the eye and though we catch a glimpse here and there, much is hidden.  Perhaps we’ll learn more as the series continues.   
I've read a review that said it wasn’t hard to figure out the mystery in the book.  I would have to agree but this book was so character driven, I found it didn’t matter.  The number of eccentric personalities, both at police headquarters and those in Carl’s complicated personal life, among them, an ex-wife, her son, her lover(s) and a somewhat unconventional roommate, made the story interesting.  Then there is his injured partner Hardy, who while not happy to be here, still lends his mind to some of the cases when asked.  

Though there are more books published in this series, this is the only one currently in English.   Danish not being a language I know, I’ll just have to wait until the rest of Department Q’s cases make their way over to the U.S.  

Where’s a good looking Dane to translate when you need him? 


1 comment:

  1. Great review Leslie. I don't have a clue why I like these types of books. They are not something I would have thought I would like but they are very interesting and I guess there isn't much else to do in the dark, dark north.