The Keeper of Lost Causes, Department Q series, book 1 by Jussi Adler-Olsen, translated by Lisa Hartford

Stars 3.5

Blurb: The #1 international bestseller from Jussi Adler-Olsen, author of The Absent One—perfect for fans of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Carl Mørck used to be one of Copenhagen’s best homicide detectives. Then a hail of bullets destroyed the lives of two fellow cops, and Carl—who didn’t draw his weapon—blames himself. So a promotion is the last thing he expects. But Department Q is a department of one, and Carl’s got only a stack of Copenhagen’s coldest cases for company. His colleagues snicker, but Carl may have the last laugh, because one file keeps nagging at him: a liberal politician vanished five years earlier and is presumed dead. But she isn’t dead … yet.

Darkly humorous, propulsive, and atmospheric, The Keeper of Lost Causes introduces American readers to the mega-bestselling series fast becoming an international sensation.

Set in Copehagen, The Keeper of Lost Causes opens to Carl Morck trying to figure out what to do with himself in the aftermath of a shooting that cost him a fellow cop and paralysed another. The last thing he needs is a promotion, but that’s exactly what he does get – he’s promoted to the head of Department Q, investigating cold cases.

In reality, all that promotion has earned him is a desk in the basement and an assistant, Assad, he doesn’t really want.

At first, Carl is the very picture of someone apathetic, who has lost his regard for life and his job – someone that belongs in a basement office. He feels guilty for surviving the shooting that changed the lives of two other cops so dramatically, but left him unscathed. The promotion doesn’t exactly change that as it is Assad who sort of gets him interested in cases, including the disappearance of a politician, Merete Lynggaard some years before.

As Carl’s case progresses, Adler-Olsen takes readers into what happened to Merete in alternating chapters. He details her life, her family and her passions making her a real presence in the story, despite the fact that Carl is investigating her disappearance and murder at the same time. He does not shy away from what she goes through, but where Adler-Olsen succeeds brilliantly, is that her situation is malignant, evil even but not bloody or dramatic or anything else you might be expecting. There’s evil to be had in a well-thought out plan, that takes years to come to fruition. There are times, I was glad to close this book and just step away from it for a bit.

As the case progresses, readers are taken into Carl’s life, as Adler-Olsen builds history and a world for him. It’s somewhat bland and somewhat conventional, I have to admit. It’s Assad that proves to be the more engaging of all the characters for what he manages to make Carl do, despite his best intentions not to do anything of importance – Carl is apathetic and Assad eager and it’s a combination that Carl needs to climb out of a very dark well of guilt.

Overall, Adler-Olsen elevates a conventional cold case into something different by the end. In this book at least (I haven’t read his others yet), he wants you to care about the victim in the cold case as much as he wants you to care about Carl.

Despite the easy flow of this translated story, there were times when phrases appeared that seemed at odds with the narrative and the time frame – they were far older than I would have expected of something set in the mid-00s. There was also an abundance of exclamation marks at odd times, but these are just small quirks in an otherwise engrossing thriller.

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