Thank you to NetGalley and Dutton for providing with me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. I greatly appreciate it as always!
In the middle of his usual hard-won morning nap in the basement of police headquarters, Carl Mørck, head of Department Q, receives a call from a colleague working on the Danish island of Bornholm. Carl is dismissive when he realizes that a new case is being foisted on him, but a few hours later, he receives some shocking news that leaves his headstrong assistant Rose more furious than usual. Carl has no choice but to lead Department Q into the tragic cold case of a vivacious seventeen-year-old girl who vanished from school, only to be found dead hanging high up in a tree. The investigation will take them from the remote island of Bornholm to a strange sun worshipping cult, where Carl, Assad, Rose, and newcomer Gordon attempt to stop a string of new murders and a skilled manipulator who refuses to let anything—or anyone—get in the way.
Since first reading The Keeper of Lost Causes (one of my favourite mystery titles ever, by the way – I love a good title, and this one sums up Department Q perfectly), I have been obsessed with Jussi Adler-Olsen’s series about Carl Mørck and his band of merry ‘men’ – Assad, his curly-haired, slang-challenged, quick and mysterious assistant, Rose, their cuttingly intelligent colleague with an acerbic wit and the necessary skills with the Internet that one needs these days (rest assured neither Carl nor Assad will be much help in that department), and now Gordon, the gangly mess of a fledgling investigator, who never asks the right questions and manages to infuriate Carl every time he opens his mouth. Spending time with them is a riot.
In The Hanging Girl, Carl and the gang have stumbled upon a case that is colder than the Arctic during a deep freeze, and yet… their interest is piqued. Alberte, a young, vibrant and disturbingly beautiful young girl. Dead, years earlier… found hanging in a tree. A bereaved family. A close-lipped community. No suspects. No leads. It’s just the type of case that Department Q excels at solving.
Interestingly, Alder-Olsen chooses to switch back and forth between perspectives. On one hand, you have Carl, Assad, Rose and Gordon, struggling to trace Alberte’s footsteps and track down a maddeningly elusive killer. On the other, you meet Pirjo, an icy, merciless and cunning woman, who worships with a strange group of followers at the feet of their spiritual leader, Atu, in a remote commune dedicated to peace, tranquility and unifying religions.
In the beginning, I thought I had the mystery figured out… how boring. Not so, of course. I was stunned by the denouement, having not guessed the killer, nor the motivations behind taking Alberte’s life. Nor did I expect the sadness I felt – at the possibilities that lingered, the lost love, the unmet potential.
I have heard complaints that The Hanging Girl is not up to Adler-Olsen’s previous standard of work, and while I agree with the criticisms that the novel is a touch too long, I don’t agree that it isn’t as complex and riveting a case as in the previous novels. His best, in my humble opinion, was The Keeper of Lost Causes, with A Conspiracy of Faith coming in a close second, but this was moving and entertaining too. The true villain in this book is stunningly evil, and seeing inside the rotten quagmire of this person’s brain is terrifying.
The detective work is meticulous and may prove to be too detailed for some, but I love how small clues and tiny truths can add up to the break in a case that was decades cold and forgotten. It felt, to me, that Carl and crew really cared about finding justice for Alberte, and that is something Adler-Olsen never ceases to excel at portraying – that for these people, no matter how jocular and lazy they may sometimes seem – are dedicated bloodhounds, sniffing out every clue and trail until they find their culprit. It’s a bit old fashioned, and I love it for that.
Most touching and well written, however, is the continuing bond between Assad and Carl. I just love the strengthening of their friendship, and the perfectly placed moments in this novel – from the patting of Assad’s arm, to Carl’s smile and Assad’s revelation at how empty his life would be without their work – these moments feel earned, and they add a beauty to the levity that I find very effective.
Everything can’t be jokes about camels, after all.