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Monday, May 09, 2011

The Keeper of Lost Causes


 The best writers of crime fiction, those whose work is translated into a dozen or so languages every time out, have a way of reminding the reader of just how much we all have in common.  These authors do not settle for writing a series of formulaic whodunits.  They, instead, develop complex, imperfect characters whose personal side-stories are often as interesting as the mystery within which they are intertwined – and they use setting as if it were another main character.   In recent years, so many Scandinavian and Icelandic crime thriller writers have found success in the U.S. that they have carved out their own little subgenre.  Now, it is time to welcome Danish writer Jussi Adler-Olsen, author of The Keeper of Lost Things, to the club.

Chief Detective Carl Morck was one of Copenhagen’s finest policemen for a long, long time.  That all changed on the day that Morck and his two partners were ambushed at the scene of a murder they had just begun to investigate.  When the shooting finally stopped, one cop was dead, one was paralyzed, and Morck blamed himself for letting it happen.  Now finally back on the job, Morck is so grumpy, cynical, and uncooperative that no one, including his direct superiors, really wants to work with him.   So, spying the opportunity to get rid of Morck by promoting him to a dead end job while, at the same time, locking in a larger departmental budget for themselves, the higher-ups jump all over it. 

Thus does newly created Department Q, a one-man, cold-case shop located deep in the department’s basement, become Carl Morck’s baby.  Only after tiring of reading magazines and working Sudoku puzzles (and learning about the extra money allocated to the department on his behalf), does Morck demand that someone be hired to make coffee and organize the departmental files.  He gets more than he bargains for in Hafez al-Assad, a political refugee from somewhere in the Middle East who seems to think that he has been hired as an investigator, not as a broom-pusher.

When, as much to humor Assad as anything else, Morck agrees that they should study a five-year-old file involving the disappearance of a prominent Danish politician, he is surprised that the case actually captures his interest.  Merete Lynggaard was a beautiful woman with unlimited political upside when she disappeared from her holiday ferryboat but, despite her high profile, no trace of her was ever found and it has been assumed that she either fell or jumped to her death.  The more Morck learns from the file, the less he is impressed by the original investigation into the woman’s disappearance.  Might she still be alive after all this time?

The Keeper of Lost Causes is a definite thriller, a real race against the clock in every sense, but its particular strength is in the unusual relationship it portrays between Danish detective Carl Morck and mysterious Middle Eastern refugee Hafez al-Assad.  Morck is a burned-out cop and Assad is a man who was hired for his coffee-making and janitorial skills – but together they add up to something much greater than the sum of their parts.  They become one of the most effective, and one of the most entertaining, crime fighting teams in modern crime fiction.  This one is fun.

Rated at: 4.0

Review Copy provided by Publisher


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