Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Review of Disgrace by Jussi Adler-Olsen (2008. Penguin, 2012 in translation)

Kimmie has lived on the streets of Copenhagen for twelve years despite owning a luxurious mansion.  A rich, wild child in her youth, who was expelled from boarding school, she now wanders the city stealing food and clothes, muttering to herself and drinking whisky to make the voices in her head go silent.  All the time she is watching her back, afraid that her former school friends will catch-up with her before she reveals their dark secrets.  Their hunt is about to intensify as an old murder case, to which one her old gang has confessed and is in prison, has landed on Carl Morck’s desk in Department Q in the Danish police force.  Morck is not really sure why it is in the cold case pile given it has been resolved, but decides to look into it regardless.  His investigation soon catches the former boarding school pals attention, now all part of the elite of Danish society, who move to get his snooping stopped.  The question is, who will get to Kimmie and her secrets first?   

Disgrace is a fairly straightforward police procedural thriller that slowly builds to a suspenseful climax.  The strengths of the book are the characterisation, pacing, and page-turning prose.  Carl Morck, Assad his Syrian colleague, and Rose his new administrator, are all well constructed characters whose prejudices and personalities lead to some entertaining exchanges.  Where the book has some serious problems, depending on how much you want to suspend your sense of realism, is the plot.  I’m willing to believe that an elite, rich group of people can hide isolated actions and draw on networks and favours to cover up their sadistic assaults.  But to do so over twenty odd years with no rumours or accusations or cases is not credible.  Nor is the fact that they can’t find a homeless person in Copenhagen over a twelve year period using professional private detectives (especially when Assad finds her in less than an hour) or that the file Morck is using has enough circumstantial evidence in it that the person who has been compiling it could have acted several years earlier.  Nor is the fact that the cold case unit consists of three people - a detective, a non-police helper and an administrator, and they are afforded no additional resources, even when the scope of the investigation becomes apparent.  In fact, there are loads of elements of the story that make little sense when reflected on.  That’s hardly the point though in this kind of tale, where realism is not going to stand in the way of a good story.  And for the most part it is an engaging story.  It’s just a shame that I didn’t believe large chunks of it.  Nonetheless, an entertaining enough tale, with a strong central cast of characters.

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