Over the last month or so, I have been on a bit of a mystery binge. I’m really picky about mysteries–I enjoy them, but they’re usually has to be a pretty compelling reason for me to read one. The murder with suave detective formula doesn’t do it for me. However, I recently came across several that I’ve just plowed through (Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls being one). I’d like to bring to everyone’s attention the Department Q series by Danish writer Jussi Adler-Olsen. The Keeper of Lost Causes introduces Carl, a Copenhagen detective who returns to the job following the loss of his partners during a murder investigation. Surly and difficult, Carl gets himself elected the head of newly formed Department Q, who handles cold-cases. Joined by precocious assistant Assad, Carl investigates his first case, the disappearance of a female politician.
The Department Q books possess a strong omniscient viewpoint. The Keeper of Lost Causes–as well sequels The Absent One and A Conspiracy of Faith*--follow both Carl as well as the guilty/involved parties. In The Keeper, this plays out by introducing you to Carl and Assad, as well as showing the experiences of the missing politician following her kidnapping. This viewpoint both introduces all involved parties and superbly builds up to the inevitable encounter between the Department Q and the opposing parties in all three books. As a result, the books are quick reads–it only took me a few weeks to read all three books available in English.
I also give Adler-Olsen full credit for creating well-rounded and engaging characters for these stories. Carl is a huge jerk, but Adler-Olseen’s additional details about him and his situation make him ultimately sympathetic. My favorite character is Assad with his brains, zingy one-liners, and incredible fighting skills. For me, there is the added nostalgic pleasure of reading stories set in Denmark, where I spent a semester abroad. In short, if you’re looking for a gritty, action-paced mystery series, these are the books for you.
*The Absent One is the second book and follows the search for a homeless woman related to a string of violent crimes. In A Conspiracy of Faith, Carl and co. investigate missing children from religious communities.