A Not So Melancholy Dane - Jussi Adler-Olsen

The Department Q books
Reviewed by Richard Goldman
Mostly in paperback starting in 2011

Buy them at Mystery Lovers Bookshop

Scandinavian mystery has become hugely popular in recent years; a trend certainly accelerated if not created by Stieg Larsson's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books. Although popular, it's a frequent complaint of readers that these books tend towards the melancholy if not the outright depressed.

Here's an antitdote: Jussi Adler Olsen's series featuring Danish cop Carl Morck and the Department Q cold-case squad.

Not that Carl isn't without tragedies in his life. As the series opens with The Keeper of Lost Causes Carl is just returning to work after a medical leave following a shootout. One cop was killed, Carl's partner, Hardy, was left a quadriplegic and Carl was seriously wounded. On his return he's shuffled off to a department of one and told to work on cold cases. As Carl surveys the dismal pile of unsolved crimes, one case, the disappearance of a young woman politician, grabs his attention. Carl also gains an assistant in the person of Assad, a civilian employee with a mysterious past in some Middle Eastern country. All this before we even get to Carl's home life with his demanding ex-wife, his slacker son and assorted tenants living in his house.

Despite some dark elements Adler-Olson injects quite a bit of humor (admittedly some of it rather dark) especially with Carl's personality which can only be described as "rough". The relationship between Carl and Assad is particularly well-drawn as is Assad's sometimes strained relationship with the Danish language. Somewhere in the second or third book Adler-Olsen introduces a third member of the team, Rose, a young woman who is whip-smart and refuses to take any guff from anyone, particularly from Carl.

As the series unfolds the characters evolve in their relationships while we learn more about Assad's shadowy background and well as some interesting psychopathology about Rose. Each case presents its own unique challenges as the team delves into events that may have occurred twenty or thirty years ago or as recently as that morning.

I heartily recommend this series, start with the first and enjoy all six that are currently available in English.