Borrowing from a Chinese proverb, Frederick R. Barnard once said: “one look is worth a thousand words.” Similarly, one look at the author photo of Jussi Adler-Olsen tells us a multitude of things: the expression on his face says it all. Adler-Olsen is obviously a man who doesn’t suffer fools gladly; he doesn’t put up with any nonsense; he has a serious sarcastic edge balanced by an impeccable sense of fair play and capacity for kindness; and he has a playful, tongue-in-cheek side to his personality.
If this is all true, the inspiration for his main character, Carl Mørck, came simply by looking in the mirror. A self-confessed sarcastic b******d, Mørck is a man after my own heart. Australians, I have always believed, are endowed, quite favourably, with the sarcasm gene, not unlike the Brits. I was well-pleased to discover that the Danish are as apt at sarcasm as we are.
So, I’m sure you’ll love Carl Mørck. As I’ve said before, there’s always room for one more gritty, flawed-but-brilliant police detective in the genre, and Mørck’s I-don’t-give-a-toss attitude towards his colleagues adds yet another entertaining dimension.
When the Danish parliament throws a bucket of money at the local constabulary to establish a new department for investigating cold cases, Mørck is the obvious choice to put in command. This is not just because of his exceptional skills as a homicide detective, but because nobody really wants to work with him. After nearly losing his life to a bullet then watching one colleague die and another become paralysed, Mørck is naturally messed up. He returns to work and finds himself installed in the basement, running the new Department Q. Nobody expects anything to come of it all, but for the time being it’s a good way to keep Mørck out of everybody’s faces.
Starting off as a department of one, Mørck is eventually given an assistant, Assad, a Muslim refugee with a questionable background. Assigned, initially, to simple cleaning tasks, Assad turns out to be a dark horse with skills and an eagerness to work that finally gets Mørck off his back-side and interested in a case.
Alternating between the disappearance five years earlier of high-profile politician, Merete Lynggaard, and Mørck’s (and Assad’s) current-day investigation, we are aware from the start that Merete is still alive. What propels us along is, how much longer will she be allowed to live and will it be too late by the time Mørck eventually solves the case?
Described by The London Times as “the new ‘it boy of Nordic Noir”, Adler-Olsen is right up there with Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbø, Stieg Larsson, Peter Høeg and Camilla Lackberg.