Review: The Purity of Vengeance by Jussi Adler-Olsen

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Purity of VengeanceThe Purity of Vengeance by Jussi Adler-Olsen (2013, Adler Adult), Department Q #4

In 1985, Nete Hermansen attends a party with her husband. As they’re leaving, they encounter Curt Wad, a prominent surgeon who supports achieving racial purity through forced abortions and compulsory sterilization of those he deems unfit mothers. And for the second time, Curt Wad’s actions turn Nete’s life upside down, destroying her marriage and her reputation in the community. It takes two years, but Nete plans her revenge against Wad and the others who subjected her and other young women to horrific abuse at a girls’ home on the Danish island of Sprogø in the 1950s.

Twenty-five years in the future, in 2010, Carl Mørck’s assistant hands him a case file: four people went missing within a week of each other in 1987, and none of them were ever found. It’s a statistical anomaly and Department Q, which takes on unsolved cases, is assigned to investigate. Curt Wad, now 88, is the leader of the Purity Party, which for the first time is eligible for the upcoming parliamentary election based on the same ideas of racial purity wrapped in a more modern platform of immigration reform. And somehow, he seems to be tied to these disappearances…

The concept of eugenics arose in the late nineteenth century, and various nations implemented policies based on the notion of limiting the proliferation of “faulty” genes in their populations. The most infamous of these was, of course, Nazi Germany, but coerced sterilization for those deemed socially or mentally inferior continued long after the end of World War II—in places such as the United States, Canada, and Scandinavia—including Denmark. Nete’s story makes for harrowing reading—it’s not necessarily graphic, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of the horrors she and other women were subjected to at the hands of Curt Wad and others like him.

The Department Q series continues to improve with this fourth installment. The three threads of the story—Nete’s, Curt Wad’s, and Carl Mørck’s—are skillfully woven together. Mørck’s team has slowly but surely developed into a family, and this allows them both to share more and to hide more from each other. As with the previous books in the series, this one has some flashes of humor, though overall it has a darker, more somber tone that suits the subject matter. While the book does stand alone in terms of the primary plot, certain aspects of Mørck’s relationships with his team and with his family carry over from previous books, but I don’t think it’s enough to cause confusion or detract from the story. If you like dark Nordic crime fiction, I highly recommend the Department Q series.

This book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

My rating: 4 stars

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2 responses »

  1. I agree that it was very well-written, and even though I haven’t read all the books in the series, I didn’t feel lost re: the long-running plots. The two books in the series I have read have very grim crimes at the center of them, which is the only reason I think I’ll hold off on catching up. The mental health/ sterilization complexes used to be huge here in MI: I read a nonfiction book about a man who discovers he had an aunt in Eloise, the giant asylum in Detroit (it was called Annie’s Ghosts), and I spent a month in Traverse City’s former mental institute when my daughter was born. They’ve turned the complex into dining/shops/condos and, for us, the hospitality house for the hospital. Scary stuff.

    • The Nordic crime novels do usually have very grim crimes at the center, and sometimes they’re very hard to read. I didn’t know that about MI–that’s horrible.

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