Book Quote:

“Have you thought about the question? Why we’re keeping you in a cage like an animal? Why you have to be put through all of this? Have you come up with a solution, Merete, or do we need to punish you again? What’s it going to be? A birthday present or a punishment?”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody  (SEP 10, 2011)

Danish Detective Carl Morck is a walking tormented shell of his former self. Recently returned to work, he is living with post-traumatic stress disorder following an incident that ended with the shooting death of one of his colleagues and a shot that paralyzed his friend, Detective Hardy. Morck was also injured by a shot to the head. So far the perpetrators have not been found and Morck lives with survivor’s guilt. He is difficult to get along with, often late to work, and no longer has his heart in his work.

To deal with his attitude, his supervisor, Superintendent Jacobsen, assigns Carl to head Department Q, a newly funded police department, and he stations it in the basement so that Carl is out of eyesight from his colleagues who are sick of his negativity and attitude. Department Q has been funded by parliament in order to solve dead cases, especially those that involve persons of interest or famous victims. Carl’s idea of a perfect work-day is to lounge around with his feet on his desk, napping or watching television. “In his end of the basement there were no people, there was no daylight, air, or anything else that might distinguish the place from the Gulag Archipelago. Nothing was more natural than to compare his domain with the fourth circle of hell.”

It’s not long until Carl realizes that Department Q has been funded to the tune of five million kroner. The money is all being channeled to the homicide division and hardly any of it is going to Department Q. Carl approaches Jacobsen and requests his own car and an assistant, letting him know that he is wise to the side-channeling of his funding. He gets what he wants.

As the book opens in 2007, we find out that Merete Lynggaard, a once promising Danish politician, has been kidnapped and held in captivity since 2002. She has no idea why she has been kidnapped. She only knows that she is in an empty concrete cell with two buckets given to her each day – one for her waste products and the other with barely edible food. Each year, on her birthday, the atmospheric pressure in her chamber is cranked up two notches. This will happen every year until she is able to answer her captors’ question: “Why are you here?” Of course, Merete has no idea.

There is a case file for Merete on Carl’s desk and the theory is that she jumped or was pushed overboard on a ferry while on vacation with her brother Uffe. However, no body was ever found and no reason for her to commit suicide was ever ascertained. Uffe, who was disabled in a car crash that killed their parents, is very close with Merete and she cares for him with a deep and abiding love. She is also a rising star in her political party.

Meanwhile, Carl is assigned an assistant named Assad. He is a man of many abilities, strange though they may be. He makes strong coffee, drives like a maniac, can take a lock apart in a second, knows people who can decipher encrypted words and numbers and is a mystery to Carl. He is Syrian and ostensibly is hired to clean Department Q and keep it neat. Carl makes the mistake of giving Assad a book on police procedure – Handbook for Crime Technicians. Assad reads the book and then gets antsy for Carl to start working on cases. He prompts Carl to start working on the Merete Lynggaard case and together they get a start on it.

Carl tries to find out more about Assad but he keeps his past close to his chest, alluding to difficult and bad times. He keeps a prayer rug in his office and kneels to pray to Allah during the day. He also plays Arabic CD’s and has only a passing knowledge of spoken Danish. He gradually becomes Carl’s partner, leaving his cleaning duties in the background.

The novel is noir, filled with great characterizations and action, and also comedic at times. Carl’s wife, Vigga, from whom he is separated, has gotten Carl to help subsidize a gallery that she is starting with one of her many young lovers. Carl is also raising Vigga’s son from another relationship. Vigga doesn’t believe in getting another divorce so Carl is stuck with her. Vigga has the uncanny act of calling Carl’s cell phone at the most inopportune times. Carl also has a boarder who pays him rent and is like a housewife to him. His name is Morton and he collects play animals and is a great cook.

Carl suffers from physical symptoms of his Post-traumatic stress disorder including chest pains, anxiety and panic attacks. He is attracted to his department’s psychologist and sees her for treatment. However, he spends most of the time trying to pick her up and she’s wise to him, telling him to come back when he can be honest with her.

This is a book filled with great writing, telling a page-turning story. I could not put it down. It has everything I’ve come to expect from the very best Scandinavian writers – an angst-driven hero, dark situations that confound the mind, characterizations that are stunning, and action-packed scenes. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen is definitely one of the ten best books I’ve read this year and certainly the best Scandinavian mystery I’ve read, bar none. It is excellently translated by Lisa Hartford.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 381 readers
PUBLISHER: Dutton Adult (August 23, 2011)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Jussi Adler-Olsen
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:


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September 10, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: 2011 Favorites, Denmark, Drift-of-Life, Noir, Sleuths Series

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