Tag Archives: Danish

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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Review: The Dinosaur Feather by Sissel-Jo Gazan

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Dinosaur FeatherThe Dinosaur Feather by Sissel-Jo Gazan (Quercus Books, 2013)

 

Dinosaurs are “sexy,” and the question of what became of them is glamorous.

Where do you draw the line between birds and reptiles in the evolutionary timeline? This is a debate that has gone on for decades. In the world of academia, where competition for funding is fierce and disagreements over how to interpret evidence can take the form of decades-long feuds carried out in academic journals and at conferences, media coverage means more publicity, and that means more money. Anna Bella Nor has essentially built her academic career around such a feud; she’s days away from defending her PhD thesis at the University of Copenhagen when her academic advisor, Lars Helland, is discovered dead in his office—the victim of foul play. While she’s distressed by his murder, her primary concern is to finish her PhD and get on with her life.

When Soren Marhauge is assigned to investigate, he finds himself with no shortage of suspects. There’s the icy-cold single mother Anna Bella, the elusive Dr. Tybjerg, and finally the murdered professor’s academic arch-rival, Clive Freeman. Solving the crime should be relatively straightforward, Soren believes, but that turns out not to be the case. The answers he needs are not in the present, but buried in the past.

While there’s a lot of scientific detail in the book about bird and dinosaur evolution, there’s not so much that it shuts down the plot, and personally I found it fascinating. It’s also integral to the central theme of the story, which is that only by examining the past can you discover the truth in the present, as Soren discovers once he gains Anna Bella’s trust and begins to put the pieces together (with a lot of help from her!).

The characters were interesting and believable. At times I found Anna Bella to be a little bit obnoxious, but in a very real way; as the mother of a very young child, who struggles to balance her career and her role as a mother, daughter, and friend, she rings true. This is a solid novel from a promising author, and I look forward to reading more from her.

 

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

My rating: 4 stars

Review: Invisible Murder by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis

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InvisibleMurderInvisible Murder by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis (Soho Crime, 2012)

 

For centuries, the Romani (Gypsy) people have been persecuted. They have been enslaved, forced to assimilate into local cultures, and targeted for genocide in the Holocaust. As recently as 2004, Romani women have been subjected to coercible sterilization. Violence and discrimination against Romani populations still occurs throughout Europe, especially southern and eastern Europe. Many Roma have limited access to education, jobs, or even adequate housing. Needless to say, Roma are very wary and suspicious of gadje, or outsiders.

Tamás is a young Roma boy living in Hungary. His family lives in poverty—they don’t even have indoor plumbing, and his best friend Pitkin’s home has no electricity—and he is trying to make money the only way he knows how: scavenging. One day, while exploring an abandoned Soviet hospital, he and Pitkin make an amazing discovery, and Tamás knows his family’s life will finally change for the better. But first, he has to find a buyer, and so he goes to Budapest, where his brother Sándor is a law student, to use Sándor’s computer. This is the beginning of a long, complex series of events that will lead both brothers to Copenhagen.

Nina Borg is a warmhearted nurse who works with refugees in Copenhagen. The Red Cross Center where she works is overcrowded and underfunded, but Nina is committed to helping the people in her care. Nina’s husband is away for two weeks on an oil rig. He and Nina have a deal: While he’s away, she will have no involvement with the Network, an underground group that assists illegal immigrants. But one day she is called to a makeshift shelter packed with Hungarian Roma, many of them children, many of whom are ill. Nina is unable to turn her back on them, and as a result she’s pulled into a dangerous world of human trafficking and terrorism.

Invisible Murder is a difficult book to review. It’s told from four different perspectives: Sándor, the half-Roma law student who is trying to find his brother; Nina, the nurse who is trying to help sick children; Søren, a Danish policeman who is trying to maintain safety and security in the face of terrorist threats against an upcoming international summit; and Skou-Larsen, who isn’t too sure he’s happy about the mosque under construction across the street from his home. The characters are well-drawn, particularly Sándor, whose life is turned completely upside down by his brother’s actions, and Nina, whose kindhearted efforts to help a Roma child have disastrous consequences for her personal life. Nina is a wonderful, likable character who is always motivated to do what she thinks is right , even if it’s against the rules. Sándor, on the other hand, is a law school student who seems to have little passion about anything. Being half-Roma in Hungary, he has learned never to call attention to himself: don’t protest, don’t complain, and prepared to work twice as hard as everyone else.

The plot is complex, full of twists and turns and revelations, and to say more would give away too much. The story is very well told and expertly paced—the tension begins to build almost immediately, and by the end of the book the suspense is close to unbearable. The plight of the Romani people is integral to the story and is also completely organic to it—it’s something Nina and Sándor experience every day, albeit from opposite perspectives—and handled with sensitivity by the authors.

The translation, done by Tara Chace, is excellent, by which I mean it’s seamless—there’s no indication that this was a translated work. This is especially impressive in the scenes that rely on wordplay, which often don’t translate well but work perfectly here.

This is another series that is on auto-buy for me.

 

My rating: 4 stars

Review: A Conspiracy of Faith by Jussi Adler-Olsen

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A Conspiracy of FaithA Conspiracy of Faith (British title: Redemption) by Jussi Adler-Olsen (Dutton Adult, 2013)

Department Q series #3

 

Blurb: Two boys, brothers, wake tied and bound in a boathouse by the sea. Their kidnapper has gone, but soon he will return. Their bonds are inescapable.
But there is a bottle and tar to seal it. Paper and a splinter for writing; blood for ink. A message begging for help…

Her husband will not tell the truth: where he goes, what he does, how long he will be away. For days on end she waits and when he returns she must endure his wants, his moods, his threats. But enough is enough. She will find out the truth, no matter the cost to him—or to herself.

In Copenhagen’s cold cases division Carl Morck has received a bottle. It holds an old and decayed message, written in blood. It is a cry for help from two boys. Is it real? Who are they and why weren’t they reported missing? Can they possibly still be alive?

 

A Conspiracy of Faith is the third book in the Department Q series, which chronicles the accidental creation and subsequent success of a Copenhagen cold case squad. Detective Carl Mørck would rather be napping, but he manages to direct the efforts of Assad, his enigmatic Syrian deputy who grows more intriguing with every page, and Rose, his chameleon-like assistant.

A detective in Scotland contacts Mørck with a message in a bottle that was discovered many years ago by a colleague, and subsequently forgotten. The note, written in blood, is a plea for help: a young boy and his brother have been kidnapped, and their death is imminent. Mørck and his team must determine the identity and the fate of the writer—no easy task given the culture of silence that permeates non-mainstream religious sects in Scandinavia—and the kidnapper.

As with previous books in the series, this is not a mystery but a thriller that relies on psychological insight, deft plotting and nonstop action to build and maintain suspense right up until the very end. Well-placed humor keeps the book from being overly stark, and although the heart of the story is the kidnapper and his victims, we do get to know Mørck and his colleagues a bit better—just enough clues to keep me wanting more. In the hands of a less capable author the team might come across as a grouping of stereotypes—Assad’s unusual turns of phrase are a running gag—but three books in, the characters come across as genuine, and genuinely fond of each other beneath the constant ribbing.

While the main plot was compelling, the side plot, which involved Serbian gang activity apparently connected to arson in Denmark, was distracting and at times a bit confusing. Assad’s insights were crucial to the arson investigation, which gained him some (well-deserved) respect in the police department, and I’m hoping this is going to lead to more of his story in future books.

One last note: the translator did a fantastic job, in my opinion—translating humor isn’t easy, especially humor that relies on wordplay, and it seemed effortless here.

 

This ARC was provided by Penguin via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

My rating: 5 stars

Review: Disgrace by Jussi Adler-Olsen

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DisgraceDisgrace (American title: The Absent One) by Jussi Adler-Olsen (Penguin, 2012), Department Q series

Blurb: In The Keeper of Lost Causes, Jussi Adler-Olsen introduced Detective Carl Mørck, a deeply flawed, brilliant detective newly assigned to run Department Q, the home of Copenhagen’s coldest cases. The result wasn’t what Mørck—or readers—expected, but by the opening of Adler-Olsen’s shocking, fast-paced follow-up, Mørck is satisfied with the notion of picking up long-cold leads. So he’s naturally intrigued when a closed case lands on his desk: A brother and sister were brutally murdered two decades earlier, and one of the suspects—part of a group of privileged boarding-school students—confessed and was convicted.

But once Mørck reopens the files, it becomes clear that all is not what it seems. Looking into the supposedly solved case leads him to Kimmie, a woman living on the streets, stealing to survive. Kimmie has mastered evading the police, but now they aren’t the only ones looking for her. Because Kimmie has secrets that certain influential individuals would kill to keep buried . . . as well as one of her own that could turn everything on its head.

 

Last year I picked up The Keeper of Lost Causes based solely on the title, and was blown away. I’ve been keeping Disgrace on my reward shelf as a treat, and it definitely delivered. I would recommend reading these books in order, as some familiarity with the characters is assumed.

The characters make these books. Mørck is as sharp an investigator and as lovesick as ever; Assad continues to be mysterious in the best possible way (with hints dropped here and there that I assume will be fleshed out in subsequent books); and Rose, the new member of Department Q, by turns exasperates and impresses Mørck. Disgrace lacks the laugh-out-loud humor of Lost Causes, but it wouldn’t have felt right here. There’s still humor when Mørck and Assad interact, but it’s much lighter, and it balances the more grisly aspects of the story.

The bad guys in this book are intriguing, and they are the true focus: Kimmie, who lives on the streets, was once the darling of Danish high society—and she knows enough of her former friends’ secrets that they’ll do anything to keep her quiet. Her story is both chilling and tragic, and while I found myself drawn to her, I was repelled by her as well, which for me is a sign of a well-written character.

Much more a thriller than a mystery, Disgrace is full of twists and turns as the various dramas play themselves out. The climax of the book was as surprising as it was inevitable. Definitely a series to keep reading.

 

My rating: 5 stars