Review of Jussi Adler-Olsen's The Absent One | How Mysterious! » How Mysterious!
Jan 282013

I really liked Jussi Adler-Olsen’s The Absent One except for one annoyingly ridiculous plotline that almost made me not like the book.

It’s the second in Adler-Olsen’s Department Q series featuring Carl Morck and his somewhat mysterious “custodian,” Assad; now they have an additional staff member, Rose, a secretary who’s foisted on him and who like Assad ends up doing far more investigation than her job description would suggest. The cold case they’re investigating this time appears as a file on Morck’s desk with no indication of who put it there or why — particularly weird given that someone confessed and is serving time for the crime in question, the murder of two teenagers many years before. But, since the case involves a number of wealthy and powerful men, the team begins to investigate and only gets more invested in the case when it becomes obvious that the men have powerful friends who don’t want them to look into the case.

It becomes quickly apparent that this group of school friends has a nasty habit of attacking and brutalizing people for the pure pleasure of it, a habit that began when they were teens and continues right up to present-day Copenhagen. And here’s the really dumb part that I hated: to symbolize their cruelty and depravity, Adler-Olsen has the men participate in hunting parties that involve, among other things, a rabid fox. I think this was intended to be horribly shocking, but really? It that so much more depraved than running around Denmark beating up and sometimes killing people for no reason? I’m sorry, I just couldn’t see the point of it — it’s too obviously a “look at the depravity of the rich people who have too much money to spend in normal ways” ploy.

OK, back to the actual review. Along with following Morck’s investigation, we’re also given insight into the street life of Kimmie, a woman who turns out to be connected to the old school friends, who has money yet chooses to live alone (well, along with the voices in her head) in an old railroad shack. Kimmie has obviously been broken by life, and as her story unravels it becomes very clear how and why.

The best part of the book was, in my opinion, the hints about Morck’s past and the incident that led him to Department Q in the first book. In The Keeper of Lost Causes, readers learn that Morck and two of his closest working companions were involved in a shoot-out; one was killed, the other paralyzed, and Morck was assigned to set up Department Q in the basement of police headquarters. In this second book, his old partner suggests that the now-dead police officer must have been the cause of the shoot-out, and Morck promises to follow up. It’s pretty obvious that the incident still haunts him, so it will be interesting to see how Adler-Olsen resolves this storyline in future books (he’s up to #5 in Danish).

The Assad subplot also has legs. Was he really an Iraqi police officer? If so, how did he end up affiliated with the police in Denmark? And if not, who the heck is he?

Although the hunting subplot made me want to throw something, and although it’s pretty violent at times, I still recommend this book and series to people who like Scandinavian crime fiction, police procedurals or cold-case stories. Department Q is worth your time.

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