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Forced sterilization, fascists, and serial murder—in Denmark

Forced sterilizationThe Purity of Vengeance (Department Q #4), by Jussi Adler-Olsen

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

Many Americans harbor an image of Denmark as one of the most progressive and livable countries in the world. That may well be the case—the country’s rankings on global indexes support it—but you might well gain a different impression of Denmark if you read the crime thrillers written by Jussi Adler-Olsen. The (s0 far) seven novels in his Department Q series introduce readers to Denmark’s underclass, the struggles of its immigrant population, its ruthless anti-immigrant right wing, and violent crime much like what plagues every other wealthy country. The Purity of Vengeance, the fourth in Adler-Olsen’s series, revolves around the country’s shameful history of forced sterilization and the fascists who promoted it for many decades.

Three brilliant misfits

Department Q, the cold case unit of the Copenhagen Police, is staffed by three brilliant misfits. Detective Carl Mørck is still wrestling with guilt and pain two years after one of his partners was killed and the other paralyzed from the neck down in a shootout he thought he should have prevented. He is a disagreeable sort, disliked by most of his colleagues. Carl’s assistant, Asaad, is a physically imposing Syrian immigrant with a mysterious past and a tendency to violence. Rose, the unit’s “secretary,” is a bossy schizophrenic with awesome research skills. She has little respect for Carl and regularly shows it. These three mismatched people hold forth from former storage closets in the basement of Copenhagen Police HQ. This is the motley team that initiates an investigation into the simultaneous disappearance of four seemingly unconnected people in 1987 in The Purity of Vengeance.

Two parallel plotlines

While Department Q begins its slow inquiry into the curious case of the disappearing Danes, a new fascist organization called the Purity Party is readying itself for the upcoming elections, when it hopes to gain seats for the first time. The party’s autocratic leader is an 87-year-old physician named Curt Wad. He’s a fertility doctor who is widely rumored to have performed a great many abortions over the years, most of them unauthorized. Wad is a clever and articulate spokesperson for the party and is steadily gaining adherents through frequent television and radio interviews.

No reader of crime fiction will be surprised to learn that these two plotlines—the 25-year-old disappearances and the rise of the fascist party—will eventually intersect. However, there is a great deal of action along the way, and lots of surprises. Adler-Olsen has written a top-flight thriller, with palpable suspense until the very end.

Forced sterilization in Denmark’s recent history

As The Economist explained in a 1997 article entitled “Here, of all places,” Nazi Germany was not the only place where dark-skinned and mentally or physically disabled people were classified as inferior and sometimes forcibly sterilized. “All four main Nordic countries—Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden—brought in eugenics laws in the 1930s. More remarkably, some of those laws stayed on the statute books until the mid-1970s, though apparently they were not latterly used very often.” About 11,000 Danish women were forcibly sterilized under such laws between 1929 and 1967. The plot in The Purity of Vengeance rests on this disgraceful history.

 

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