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Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Catching up with Department Q

I absolutely loved the first book in Jussi Adler-Olsen's Department Q series, Mercy. It was an extremely gripping mystery that introduced some great characters. I bought my Dad the second one for Christmas and was trying to wait for a polite interval to pass before borrowing it back from him to read myself. And as the third book, Redemption, has recently been published (I was lucky to receive a copy for review from Penguin Books via NetGalley), now seemed like the perfect time to pick up where I left off.

Disgrace (also published as The Absent One)

After solving the Merete Lyngaard case we read about in Mercy, Department Q are firmly in the force’s good books. The downside of this is that their offices are full to bursting with closed and unsolved cases for their perusal. How do they choose which one to devote their attention to? When a folder appears on Carl Morck’s desk out of the blue he is somewhat bemused – nobody will own up to bringing it to his attention, and besides, the case is closed and resulted in a conviction for murder of a pair of siblings twenty years ago. But the more he looks into the matter, the more he agrees that some digging into the past is needed. Unfortunately, the one woman who can help him most is living on the street and will do whatever it takes to make sure nobody can contact her. 

Now from the beginning it is clear that this represents a departure from Mercy in a significant way - that is, we find out very early on who the wrong’uns are, making Disgrace more of a howdunnit or a whydunnit rather than a whodunnit. I don't often find this to be the most gripping kind of mystery novel and wasn't looking forward to spending a lot of time reading as Carl works out what the reader already knows. But it's well-written and very enjoyable on the whole with plenty of twists and turns to satisfy the seasoned crime fiction fan. The characters shine and we get a really good insight into the psyche of the criminals.

In Mercy, Department Q essentially just consisted of the dynamic duo of Carl and Assad. In Disgrace we see them become a trio with the addition of an eccentric new assistant, Rose. I found her really annoying at first but over the course of the book her quirks became more endearing to me and she seems like a character with promise. I am looking forward to see how her role is developed as the series progresses. 

When dealing with series, sometimes it's so difficult to review a book it in its own right rather than making lazy comparisons to its prequels. With this one I couldn't help it even though I enjoyed it and it captured my attention. The main take-home thought I was left with is ‘Well, it isn’t as good as Mercy’. But it's well worth reading for the backstory of the main characters and for continuity in order to get the best out of the series as a whole.

Redemption (also published as A Conspiracy of Faith)

Can you think of anything more romantically mysterious than finding a message in a bottle? That’s how Redemption starts – when an unusual bottle is washed up on the bleak North Scottish coastline. It sits on a shelf gathering dust for years until some bright spark comes to the realisation that it contains a desperate plea for help. And it’s written in Danish, so of course it ends up on the desk of Carl Morck ready for Department Q to look into. He ends up on the trail of a cold-hearted serial killer and master of disguise who has managed to infiltrate some of the country’s most insular and reclusive religious sects. The criminal is still at large and, to make matters worse, is targeting children.

As if Department Q didn't already have enough on its plate, Assad can't help sticking his oar in with one of the cases that is troubling the regular police force upstairs. A spate of arson attacks has plagued the city and the only clue to a possible solution is the bizarre finding of several charred skeletons with severed fifth fingers.

I'm delighted to report that Jussi Adler Olsen is back on top form in this most recent instalment in the series! It’s a really satisfying crime novel, a perfect mix between past and present narratives, action scenes and introspection, a nice sprinkling of humour, boom! I felt like it was very well-researched when it came to the details about the various religious organisations, too.

The best thing about these books is that aside from all the suspense and action you can enjoy some great character development. Rose is gone but not forgotten as her equally odd sister Yrsa stands in to cover her workload. I love the relationship between Carl and Assad and am particularly fond of the teasing hints that are slowly being dropped about secrets in Assad's past, carefully uncovering another side to his personality as we progress through the series. There are times when he feels like a bit of a racial stereotype, but he certainly provides comedy value with his speech that is peppered with bizarre proverbs and misunderstood idioms. It’s a credit to the translator that this language barrier is conveyed in convincing broken English from the original Danish. If I didn't know better I'd be convinced that this novel had originally been written in English.

After Disgrace left me feeling very underwhelmed, I was so pleased to read such a solid follow-up. Redemption has reignited my interest in this series and I will certainly be picking up any further installments. This book would work very nicely as a standalone crime thriller, however, I think for full appreciation the books should be read in order.


  1. I like when the second book surpasses the first although I find it doesn't happen to me often. Thanks for reviewing, I have never heard of this author before.

    Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net

  2. I'm in agreement with you, Redemption seems to be back on form after the disappointment of the second book. I'm only half way through it but am enjoying it very much

  3. I loved Redemption too. The character of Assad is very well drawn and there's plenty of mystique around the Carl/Assad relationship.

  4. I've had Mercy on my to read pile for far too long, thank you for reminding me about it and for reviewing the follow ups :)

  5. I have not started this series yet, and I enjoyed reading your opinions on these two books in the series. I have found myself comparing a book to an especially good preceding book and being disappointed, and it is good to hear these opinions in advance, although I am sure I will read all of them.