Written by Jussi Adler-Olsen — This is the first of four books in the author’s Department Q series to be translated from Danish into English. And, if you’re into your Scandinavian crime fiction like I am, I’d be very surprised if you don’t find it to be a gripping page turner.
It all starts off with a touch of politics which might remind you a little bit of The Killing – that popular TV series also set in Copenhagen. The ruling coalition has decided that public security will be bolstered if a central investigative division is set up to clear up unsolved crimes for the whole of Denmark, and in particular ones that have shocked the public. But they’re sly old devils in Copenhagen’s police HQ and the homicide chief sets up Department Q in the basement putting his most troublesome detective in charge of it, siphoning off most of the new department’s budget for other projects.
Carl Mørck, our hero, is that troublesome and troubled detective. He’s just survived an incident in which one of his colleagues was shot dead, and another paralysed from the neck down by a bullet wound. Feeling guilty for taking only a graze to the side of his head and not using his gun, he looks on his fellow policemen with disdain and distrust. He relishes the idea of sitting in the basement with two packs of cigarettes, a comfortable chair and a coffee machine, but he demands an assistant and is given Assad, a Syrian refugee.
Jumping back in time from 2007 to 2002, the book also tells the story of Merete Lynggaard a young politician in her prime who is abducted and kept in a lightless chamber like a caged animal. She has no idea who’s doing this to her or why, and neither will you early on in the book. Eventually, when Mørck decides to pick a file and do some investigating as he’s supposed to, the stories of Merete and Carl gradually begin to draw together. What mistakes did the initial investigators make? What weren’t people saying about Merete Lynggaard? Is she dead like everyone assumes?
Mercy unfolds like a police procedural but has an urgent, thrilling edge to it thanks to Adler-Olsen’s great storytelling. He sets up cliff-hangers with poise, pulling you on through the chapters even though for long periods Carl and Assad are investigating the case in minute detail. Assad is a fantastic character bringing humour to the book – he might remind you of Apoo in The Simpsons, always saying sensible things but in a very round-about way. It’s his focus and persistance that pushes the distracted and negative-minded Carl forwards. There’s a subtext to Mercy too, which explores guilt, regret and surviving terrible incidents.
This is a really, really, really great crime novel. The last 150 pages are compulsory reading simply because the story is so gripping and harrowing, and the characters so compelling – including the villains. But you’ll have to find out about them for yourselves. I can’t wait for the next one.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars