Written by Jussi Adler-Olsen — The miserable and sardonic Copenhagen police detective Carl Mørck is back, and this time he plays the main role in a story that has something for just about every stripe of crime fiction lover. Mørck is the head of Department Q, headquartered in the basement of the main police station in the Danish capital. Along with his assistants Assad and Rose, he tackles cold cases from all over the country, and this one’s extra interesting.
It started years ago when a Scottish fisherman discovered a bottle with a message in it. The vessel was handed to local police in a Scots fishing town where it sat on the windowsill for a few years before eventually being opened and investigated. The bottle was sealed with tar, and contained a message written in blood. Written in Danish, the note is extremely faded, but appears to be a plea for help. And so eventually it’s forwarded to Copenhagen where it lands on Mørck’s desk.
While Carl, Assad and Rose delight in trying to decipher the letter, with a bit of help from forensics, we switch to the story of a cold, calculating man whose intention is to kidnap two children. Not just any children – he targets families belonging to deeply religious Christian sects like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other lesser known ones that the author may well have made up. His prey are Samuel and Magdelena. He attends their church, befriends parents Joshua and Rachel, and eventually nabs them. He works with military-like discipline. The children are tied up in a boathouse, a million kronor is demanded, to be thrown from a specific train at a specific spot in the Danish countryside. However, he’s going to release one child and murder the other. The deeply religious parents, already distrusting of the police, will never report it. He’ll threaten to murder another of their children if they ever speak up.
The killer’s MO has worked before numerous times. Meanwhile, using all their skills, Department Q begin to decrypt the scratched out plea for help from the bottle. There’s just enough to locate where the person who wrote it disappeared from. Gradually, yet persistently, they use little clues to edge towards the mystery man the author describes in the alternate chapters.
One of the criticisms we had of Jussi Adler-Olsen’s last book was that his villains felt two dimensional. Not so here. He really fleshes out the kidnapper’s background and we learn all about the reasons behind his hatred for devout families. There are several more plusses too. In the past, most of the author’s female characters have fallen into three categories: victims, secretaries and ornaments to ogle. In Redemption, some of the best sequences feature two women who, separate to Mørck’s investigation, track the killer and attempt to expose him. A heart-pumping, high octane chase ensues and these ladies pack some punch.
Mørck’s personal story evolves too – now his paralysed former partner Hardy is living in his house. He’s in a relationship with police psychotherapist Mona Ibsen. And Assad and Rose develop as well, in peculiar and amusing ways.
As with Mercy and Disgrace, the threads of the plot are drawn together in unexpected ways, towards a violent conclusion. Some of the connections made during the investigation seem a little unlikely, but Mørck and his team are unlucky at points too, and this returns some realism to the story. For the lover of police procedurals, Department Q deploy all sorts of crime solving techniques as the investigation builds. Those who love Scandinavian crime fiction will enjoy the parts of the story taking place in the cold, dark countryside with its frozen fjords. Not to mention urban Copenhagen’s grey malaise. And if thrillers are your thing, you’ll love the chases, fights, twists, turns and tension. As they close in on the killer, he grows ever more desperate… Anything could happen.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars