Ali Karim is a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.
Following on from the English language translation of last year’s Mercy [re-titled ‘The Keeper of Lost Causes’ in the US] which featured the English debut of Adler-Olsen’s Danish Department ‘Q’ novels, we now have the second in series ‘Disgrace’. These books may be riding on the coat-tails of the recent explosion in Scandinavian / Nordic Crime-Fiction, but they are far more than just that.
They mix very moving social commentary with a subversion of the conventions and tropes of the genre. Right at the centre of the narrative of this follow-up to Mercy, we have the ‘Batman and Robin’ of crime fiction, surly and introspective Detective Carl Morck and his ‘assistant’ the Syrian Immigrant ‘Assad’; though extending the analogy – we get a ‘Batgirl’ thrown into the mix with failed police woman, turned secretary Rose Knudsen thus expanding the duo into a crime-fighting trio.
Department ‘Q’ is a section that investigates ‘cold cases’, though this time, Morck’s attention is drawn to the upper echelons of Danish society, and a twenty year old murder of siblings linked to an elite boarding school. The problem is that the murders were solved and Morck ponders why the file was placed at the door of Department ‘Q’? As the trio investigate this [solved] ‘cold case’ they discover that there may have been a group of psychopaths who as students at the elite private school got their kicks from violence, murder and death.
Today these madmen sit as bastions of Danish business and society, free from their violent past and coated with the respectability that their positions in society provides them. They hide their true natures from sight, or so Morck considers. Three of their number - Torsten Florin, Ulrik Jensen, and Ditlev Pram appear untouchable, as their friend Bjarne Thøgersen admitted to the crimes, and Kristian Wolf died in a hunting ‘accident’. The sixth of the group, and the sole female Kirsten-Marie Lassen has dropped off the radar. The key to solving this ‘cold case’, [if there is a case] is a mysterious homeless woman named ‘Kimmie’, someone who could hold the key that links the 1987 murders to the elite group of psychopaths. The character ‘Kimmie’ is a most interesting one and the flip-side to privilege and indicates how easy it is to fall through the cracks in societies veneer.
Adler-Olsen, peppers the narrative with dead-pan [and at times] gallows humor using both Assad and Rose as foils that contrast against the darkness and violence that shudder the reader. Without the strong and witty relationships between Carl Morck and his Department ‘Q’ assistants Assad and Rose, this would be a troubling read. The questions this novel raises also engage thought onto the class systems that appear in society, and how the ‘elites’ sometimes perceive themselves to be above the law.
A masterful read, and it seems natural that Yellowbird productions [who filmed the Swedish Wallander, as well as the Stieg Larsson novels have started filming the Department Q novels, with the first due for release in 2013. Though I would add that the theme of ‘Disgrace’ is shared with Richard Connell’s highly influential 1924 short story ‘The Most Dangerous Game’ [aka ‘The Hounds of Zaroff’] that has been reworked into countless film and TV work, though Adler-Olsen’s take is one that is as disturbing as it is entertaining with social introspection into the madness of our times, and how power and wealth corrupts.