Every month or two seems to bring a new novel revolving around a cold case squad. That is not a complaint. Cold cases --- police investigations, usually murders, that have gone unsolved for a prolonged period of time --- are those that cry the loudest for justice, not only for the victims but also for those left behind. One of the best of the current fictional series exploring these cases --- and, more specifically, the squads that investigate them --- would be the Department Q titles.
Department Q is headed up by Carl Mørck, who officially constitutes a department of one. Consigned to the nether regions of police headquarters in Copenhagen, Mørck is a flawed protagonist, a rough-around-the-edges investigator whose personality in part has resulted in his exile. He has managed, though, to somewhat unofficially collect Assad and Rose, two assistants who, though as flawed and damaged as he is, constitute a somewhat erratic but ultimately reliable and efficient team. Assad is brilliant, possessed of an encyclopedic knowledge of matters germain and otherwise, but is quietly dangerous as well. Mørck has grown to suspect that Assad has agendas of his own, and it’s all but certain that he’s correct. Rose, meanwhile, is extremely difficult to work with and chafes at her subordinate role on the team, even as she deals with a multiple personality disorder. Or perhaps it is something more.
"Jussi Adler-Olsen injects some occasional humor, grim and otherwise, into the proceedings at irregular intervals. There are also surprises, twists and turns galore..."
The traveller carrying the most baggage in Department Q is Mørck, much of it acquired as the result of his failures during an ambush that resulted in the death of one policeman, the paralyzing of another, and any number of emotional injuries to himself. This is a cold case as well, and in THE PURITY OF VENGEANCE, the fourth and latest of the Department Q novels, an anonymous benefactor is leaking heretofore unrevealed information about the incident to the Copenhagen police, which inexplicably implicates Mørck in the tragedy.
However, the primary thrust of the book concerns a missing person case going back some three decades. A very successful brothel owner named Rita Nielsen went missing in the 1980s; Rose feels strongly about the case, and with some additional prodding, the team begins to trace her movements leading up to her disappearance. The investigation soon uncovers some other disappearances as well, all of them apparently unrelated to one another until a very strong thread is found to be linking two of the missing victims.
Meanwhile, another story proceeds along a different track. It is a tragic, heartrending tale concerning a young woman who experiences a horrific childhood almost beyond description and who, as an adult, finds a way to exact a fitting and violent revenge upon the persons responsible. Mørck’s investigation and the woman’s plan intersect at the life of a politician named Curt Wad, a retired physician turned politician who is a chilling combination of Margaret Sanger and Josef Mengele. Wad’s political party, with its eugenics message promulgating sterilization and abortion, is on the verge of becoming a force in Denmark; Mørck’s investigation, as it comes to bear upon Wad and his activities, could not come at a worse time. As Mørck and Assad draw closer to Wad, he decides to preserve at all costs the political position it has taken him so long to create, even as Department Q approaches resolution of a mystery that has lain quietly and undisturbed for almost 30 years.
THE PURITY OF VENGEANCE is a dark book, though not unrelentingly so. Jussi Adler-Olsen injects some occasional humor, grim and otherwise, into the proceedings at irregular intervals. There are also surprises, twists and turns galore, and while the main investigation is ultimately resolved, there are plenty of personal and professional issues for Mørck left hanging at book’s end to make the wait for the next installment in the series a short one.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 20, 2013