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The keeper of lost causes

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The thrills of the tightly wrought suspense/mystery novels from Scandinavia continue with the first English translation of The Keeper of Lost Causes by Denmark’s top crime writer, Jussi Adler-Olsen. This is the first book in the Department Q series whose main protagonist is Detective Carl Mørck, selected to run the new department which investigates and dogs down cold cases. It is an outstanding thriller, and more than a match for the works of Stieg Larsson.

These are some of the events and themes that are tightly woven into the plot of this captivating book that cannot be put down: revenge from the victim of an automobile accident who deems it to be a grave injustice; an insider’s view of a group of homicide cops in Copenhagen; a very down-to-earth view of a cross-section of Danish society; a burnt-out cop whose flagging interest in his work is revived by the help of his Middle Eastern sidekick, Assad; and the cop redeems his reputation as an excellent detective. This tale is not devoid of some grisly details, but not quite as horrific as some in Larsson’s books. Plus there is a good deal of technical detail about pressure chambers and what decompression can do to the human body.

The storyline is as follows: There are two parallel, but unrelated crimes to be solved. Carl Mørck and fellow detectives were at a crime scene where one man was killed and one was paralyzed from the neck down, and Mørck survived, never having fired his gun. The detective is a burnt-out case, relegated to what seems to be a special new division, Department Q, in a closet of a room in the basement. He is assigned Assad whose enthusiasm spurs on the cop to work on a five-year-old case that has loose ends as the result of a slap-dash investigation by his current colleagues.

The cold case is the disappearance, five years ago, of Merete Lynggaard, a young successful politician who disappeared on a boat trip and was presumed to be dead, but is not. She is alive, imprisoned, and Adler-Olsen skillfully presents the first-person narrative of a prisoner held in captivity for five years in conditions that Edgar Allan Poe might have imagined.

The unfolding resolution of both crimes and Merete’s narrative are interwoven in time and subject as the resolution of the cold case reaches a breathtaking climax. The story is told in a format which juggles time periods and narratives, told in a much leaner, and therefore more evocative, writing style than Larsson’s.

The Absent One is next in the series and this reader can barely wait to read it, so stay tuned for another review. And, there are other books yet to be translated from this excellent writer--so Dutton Publishing, please hurry them along!