Saturday, June 4, 2011

Review of Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen (Penguin, 2011; Danish 2008)

Carl Mørck used to be a cantankerous, but hot-shot detective. Now he is just cantankerous, a ship bobbing along with no direction or purpose, having returned to work a changed man after he was shot, one of his colleagues killed and the other paralysed from the neck down. The Danish government has requested that the police set up a new department to investigate high profile cold cases. Mørck seems like just the officer to run such a department and is banished to the basement with a Syrian immigrant, Assad, as an office help and general dogsbody. After a generally feckless starting-up period the first case they decide to investigate is the disappearance of Merete Lynggaard, a fast rising Danish politician who vanished five years previously. The suspicion is that Lynggaard drowned, but Morck isn’t so sure and starts to make a nuisance of himself, both amongst his colleagues and with respect to her former life.

I picked up this book as I was travelling to Denmark and wanted to read some Danish fiction whilst there. I'm glad I did. The real strengths of Mercy are the plotting and characterisation. Adler-Olsen runs two parallel timelines, 2002 and 2007, with the former converging on the latter. As a device it works well as it enables tension in the narrative from the start, counter-posed by the lethargy and slow pace of Carl Mørck re-finding his feet after being pushed sideways to start a new department. As the story unfolds, the Morck line slowly ratchets up, so that both main strands of the story gather pace and converge towards a climax. In particular, I liked the quadrant at the core of the book – a healthy body and flawed mind (Uffe Lynggaard), a healthy mind and flawed body (Hardy Henningsen), a free body and mind but little motivation to carry on (Carl Mørck), and a trapped mind and body and desperate to live on (Merete Lynggaard). Adler-Olsen uses these differences – and the two events that caused them, the Lynggaard’s car crash when they were children and the attack on the police officers - to good effect to create drama and a compelling story. This is then added to with the Morck’s rivalry with another officer and the humour from his new assistant. Mørck and Assad make an odd, but effective couple. Sometimes the dialogue doesn't seem to ring true, which might be an effect of the translation, the story strays into melodrama at times, and there are elements that seem a little far-fetched, but when all said and done this is great read. I’m assuming that Penguin have snapped up the rights to publish Morck’s other Department Q books. I’m hoping so as this seems like a series worth following.


Maxine Clarke said...

Great review - I like your description of the quadrant. I wonder if it was deliberate? There was some issue between the translator and the publisher as she took her name off it and I don't think will be doing the next one, so it could well be that editor or the publisher, and not the translator, who is responsible for the prose you don't like. Better not read Dinosaur Feather, then, if you don't like clunky, ungrammatical, childish prose ;-).

kathy d. said...

Good review. This convinces me even more to read this book, but I have to figure out how to get it over here in the States.