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The Scarred Woman (Department Q #7) by Jussi Adler-Olsen
@@@ (3 out of 5)
The Scarred Woman is the seventh novel in Jussi Adler-Olsen‘s series about Danish detectives holed up in the basement of Copenhagen’s police headquarters, ostensibly to work on cold cases. Like the six books that preceded it, it tells the story of how the small team in Department Q takes on several homicide cases simultaneously and discovers—lo and behold!—that they’re all connected. In the process, all three of Detective Carl Mørck’s “assistants,” Asaad, Rose, and Gordon, manage to infuriate and astound him in new and sometimes highly creative ways. It’s just possible, we might guess, that all three of them are at least as smart as he is, if not more so. Meanwhile, Mørck infuriates his own boss, and practically everyone else in the police force. He’s always in trouble for insubordination, shaming his superiors, defying orders, stealing someone else’s cases, or simply showing up all his colleagues with his (or perhaps his team’s) brilliance. But somehow he always manages to evade being fired.
The Scarred Woman merges an in-depth exploration of Rose’s mental illness with a tale of the team’s investigation into three homicide cases and a night club heist. We’ve known for some time that Rose is not well. Now, we learn just how seriously ill she really is.
The titles of the six previous novels in Adler-Olsen’s series all relate closely to the contents. But I can’t figure out who “the scarred woman” is. I’m also put off by the author’s exaggerated portrayal of so many of his characters. More than in the previous novels in the Department Q series, several of the key figures in the story come across as cartoonish. One, Rose’s father, is particularly difficult to believe. Apparently, Adler-Olsen was off his game when he wrote this one.
Oh, and one more thing: the author’s writing displays a bonehead error that any competent editor or translator (or, for that matter, the author himself) should have caught: again and again, his characters address each other by name. Obviously, Adler-Olsen wants to be sure the reader understands who’s speaking to whom—or perhaps simply to remind himself. But there are far better ways to achieve that; more attentive novelists have found ways. It was this unfortunate error, as much as anything else, that caused me to stop reading Cara Black’s Aimee Leduc detective series set in Paris. I find the practice extremely annoying.
Previously, I’ve reviewed all six of the earlier novels in this series, and all of them more favorably. You can access all six of them here or by searching on this site for the author’s name. You might also want to take a look at 48 excellent mystery and thriller series.
The Fourth Durango by Ross Thomas
@@@@ (4 out of 5)
The late Ross Thomas wrote twenty-five novels about crime, espionage, politics, and corruption between 1966 and his death at age sixty-nine in 1995. No two are alike, and every one of them is a gem. They brim over with wit, insight, brilliant characterization, and Thomas’ distinctively spare writing style. In recent years, St. Martin’s Griffin has brought out new paperback editions which are also available for the Kindle. Many of these titles include introductions by Thomas’ contemporaries and successors in the crime genre. Among them are such successful practitioners of the craft as Sara Paretsky, Lawrence Block, Joe Gores, and the late Donald E. Westlake. Every introduction is a paean to Thomas’ consummate writing skill.
The Fourth Durango, published in 1989, was one of Thomas’ last contributions to his many fans. As in nearly all his other novels, the characters are entirely new. Unlike most successful mystery writers, Ross Thomas didn’t make things easy on himself by adopting a formula and a fixed cast of characters in a series. (However, there are a few who appear in more than one novel, including Cyril “Mac” McCorkle and Michael Padillo, who own a pub together and become involved in nefarious activities involving spies and a mysterious government agency; con men Artie Wu and Quincy Durant, and Washington lawyer Howard Mott.)
In The Fourth Durango, disbarred attorney Kelly Vines reunites with his friend Jack Adair, formerly chief justice of the supreme court of an unnamed state who is leaving behind a stretch in the federal maximum-security penitentiary near Lompoc, California. Jack had been convicted on the bogus grounds of tax evasion because the feds couldn’t prove a bribery charge. Now, someone is trying to kill him for reasons unknown. Kelly spirits him off to the nearby town of Durango, California, “the city that God forgot.” (It’s the fourth Durango because it isn’t any of the ones in Mexico, Colorado, or Spain.) There, Kelly and Jack seek help from the beauteous Mayor B. D. Huckins and her boyfriend, Chief of Police Sid Fork. The two are delighted to hide the pair away indefinitely for a considerable cash consideration. Skullduggery of the highest order is afoot. In fact, hiding away fugitives is the town’s major industry and provides the revenue to keep open the schools and the VD clinic.
Once the two men begin settling in at Durango, we slowly begin to learn the backstory that explains Kelly’s disbarment and Jack’s conviction. Meanwhile, all hell breaks loose as first one, then other murders crop up, and numerous other complications ensue. It’s all a glorious clusterf**k. And it’s fun all the way.
Recently, I also reviewed Thomas’ Out on the Rim and Briarpatch. See From Ross Thomas: con men, a $5 million bribe, and a Philippine rebellion and It’s hard to beat this political thriller.
@@@@ (4 out of 5)
In 1997, a beautiful 19-year-old schoolgirl is killed by a hit-and-run driver on a road near the school she’s attending. Somehow, her body is throw up fourteen feet into a tree, where it remains hanging until a local police officer discovers her days later. The officer plunges into an obsessive investigation into her murder that spans nearly two decades. In the process, he drives his wife and son away and alienates everyone else around him. Now, in 2014, he calls detective Carl Mørck of the famous Department Q in Copenhagen in hopes Carl will take up the case. Carl, predictably, rude as ever, hangs up on him.
Of course, we readers know well that Department Q will, in fact, take on the case. Carl is forced to do so the following day when his assistant, Rose, guilt-trips him with the accusation that his refusal to help the man led to his suicide. The team’s one-day exploratory visit to the distant Baltic Sea island of Bornholm devolves into an investigation that drags on for weeks. Painstakingly, Carl and his staff pursue one fruitless lead after another—until, at long last, their persistence begins to pay off.
Meanwhile, a religious cult led by a sex-crazed charismatic man is thriving, first in the Danish countryside and then in Sweden. “Atu Abanashamash Dumuzi”—obviously not his name at birth—leads a group of several dozen misfits pursuing the belief that all religions have a common origin in sun-worship. Their operations center is called the Nature Absorption Academy. The Academy is run in practice by a fiercely protective Finnish woman named Pirjo Abanashamash Dumuzi. Though the two aren’t married, Pirjo desperately wants to bear a child with Atu. And she is clearly prepared to murder any woman who threatens her primacy in the cult. “Pirjo became the last remaining disciple who’d followed Atu Abanashamash Dumuzi from the beginning, when he’d been in a completely different place in life and was called Frank.”
Unsurprisingly, these two threads of the plot will converge, but that’s a long time coming. Suspense builds all the way. And things do not turn out the way a reader will suspect.
The Hanging Girl is the sixth of the bestselling Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen‘s Department Q novels, and the sixth I’ve read. Adler-Olsen does a brilliant job with plotting, and his books cast a spotlight on Danish society that I find intriguing. In the earlier Department Q novels, I was charmed by the three characters who comprise the department: Deputy Chief Inspector Carl Mørck and his two (now three) assistants, Assad, Rose, and Gordon. All four of these people are annoying, each in their own way. And I must admit that I’m tiring of their antics. The Hanging Girl works nonetheless because the novel is so cleverly plotted and the author’s research into religious cults has turned up so much fascinating information.
For my reviews of two of the earlier books in the Department Q series, see A twisted tale of violence and murder in Denmark and A captivating tale of religious fanaticism, blackmail, and serial murder. You might also be interested in 48 excellent mystery and thriller series.
The Dime, by Kathleen Kent
@@@@ (4 out of 5)
Elizabeth (“Betty”) Rhyzyk is a narcotics detective on the Dallas Police Force. She’s a ten-year veteran, transplanted from Brooklyn. Betty comes from a family of Polish-American cops and is proud of her heritage. She has bright red hair, is nearly six feet tall—and graduated at the top of her class in the police academy back in Brooklyn. Betty is a lesbian and lives with her girlfriend, Jackie, a pediatric radiologist in a large Dallas hospital. But the male cops who work with her have long since learned that she won’t take any crap from them. In truth, she can probably best almost any of them in a fight.
Betty and her partner, Seth, are on a long stakeout at the home of a major cocaine and meth distributor. They’re “waiting for the arrival of the biggest cocaine supplier to North Texas, one Tomás ‘El Gitano’ (Gypsy) Ruiz, a Mexican national” representing the second-largest cartel south of the border. But the situation quickly spins out of control when one of the distributor’s neighbors calls the cops because he’s locked his dog in the back of his car on a fiercely hot day. So, when El Gitano finally arrives, he sees the distributor talking to a patrolman on his front porch—and machine-guns the two men, the neighbor, and one of the surveillance vans. The result: three dead, and one wounded young narcotics officer in the van.
These circumstances set off a complex investigation involving not just the narcotics squad but the homicide bureau as well—and the body count mounts steadily as Betty and her colleagues slowly make progress toward tracking down Ruiz. Little do they know, however, that they are about to stumble into a truly nightmarish encounter with a drug supplier even more fearsome than the cartel.
So goes the tale in The Dime, a crime thriller by Dallas author Kathleen Kent. As she explains in an author’s note, she had previously written only historical fiction. But a friend talked her into contributing a story to an anthology he was editing of local crime stories. And that short story gave rise to The Dime. Readers of police dramas can be thankful it did. The Dime is powerfully written, beautifully plotted, and suspenseful to the end.
@@@@ (4 out of 5)
Read any one of the 21 novels published to date in the Inspector Rebus series, and you will have no doubt that Ian Rankin, is a native Scotsman, and proud of it. You’ll rush to the dictionary from time to time to look up strange words known only to the inhabitants of that cold and rainy land. And you’ll read about people actually eating haggis—willingly! (They even ask for it in restaurants!) This is all evident in The Black Book, the fifth entry in the series, a more mature effort than the four novels that precede it. John Rebus seems to have grown into his skin. His relationships with his colleagues in the Edinburgh police have fallen into a familiar pattern. And the underlying mystery is, characteristically, impenetrable until close to the end. Rankin is in fine form in this excellent example of detective fiction.
The standout elements of The Black Book are an Elvis-themed restaurant (in Edinburgh!), the complex and sometimes treacherous internal activity of the Edinburgh police, and our first extensive exposure to Morris Gerald “Big Ger” Cafferty, John Rebus’ white whale. (Yes, that restaurant is fictional.)
The story opens as a young man staggers into a butcher shop with a knife wound in his abdomen. He refuses to reveal anything about how he came to be stabbed, or by whom, and the butcher—his uncle, it later develops—professes to know nothing, or even to recognize the younger man. While Inspector Rebus and his two charges, Detective Sergeant Brian Holmes and Detective Constable Siobhan Clarke, labor to learn what happened, another attack takes place, much closer to home. As Holmes is leaving his favorite hangout, an Elvis-themed restaurant, he is savagely hit on the head in the parking lot and sent into a coma. Eventually, Rebus learns from Holmes’ girlfriend that he had been preoccupied lately because of something he had recorded in his notebook, the “black book.” Rebus soon decodes Holmes’ cryptic abbreviations, learning that Holmes had been on the trail of information about a five-year-old unsolved murder. This is the mystery that is central to the plot.
As Rebus and Clarke work in secret to unravel the mystery—they have been assigned to what they regard as a futile surveillance detail—it quickly becomes clear that the city’s rich and powerful are somehow involved. Apparently, both the owner of the prosperous local brewery and his son as well as Big Ger Cafferty seem to have been present in the building where the murder took place. Rebus’ dogged attempts to learn the truth about what happened there five years ago expose him and his brother to vicious attacks and result in getting him suspended from the police force. Of course, all will work out in the end. The Black Book is, after all, a murder mystery in a series. The hero must triumph in the end so the author may tell another tale.
I’ve reviewed a number of Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels. One is at Devil worship and murder in this early Inspector Rebus novel. Another is here: Inspector Rebus goes to London to catch a serial murderer. These are among scores of detective novels I’ve reviewed over the years. You can find a list of my favorite series at 48 excellent mystery and thriller series.
@@@@ (4 out of 5)
If you’ve ever been to the desert in central Australia, you’ll find it easier to envision the setting in Jane Harper‘s thriller, The Dry: the featureless landscape, the stifling heat, the desolation, the sheer loneliness that the landscape inflicts on you. The novel is set somewhere south of the desert, in drought-ridden farming and sheep-herding country, but it still conjured up memories of my brief visit to the Alice Springs area more than a decade ago. It’s difficult to understand how or why anyone would choose to live in such a place. It’s somewhat easier to picture a multiple murder in such a forbidding environment.
Aaron Falk has returned to Kiewarra twenty years after he and his father had fled the town, hounded by accusations that one or the other of them had murdered Aaron’s teenage friend, Ellie Deacon. He’d been living ever since in Melbourne, far to the south, lately working as a federal investigator specializing in financial fraud. He’d returned reluctantly to attend the funeral of his boyhood best friend, Luke Hadler, his wife, and five-year-old son. They’d all been brutally shotgunned to death in a gruesome multiple murder, and Luke himself was suspected both by the townspeople and the police who’d been called in to investigate. But Luke’s parents are certain their son didn’t kill his family and himself. They’ve pressed Aaron to find out what happened. Against his better judgment, Luke has consented to stay for a week to look into the case.
Aaron quickly finds he isn’t welcome back in Kiewarra. He’s still suspected of murdering Ellie Deacon two decades earlier. Unfortunately, Luke had no alibi for the period when Ellie was killed. He’d only avoided arrest because Luke had persuaded him to tell the police that the two of them were together at the time. It hadn’t then occurred to Aaron to suspect that Luke was only gaining an alibi for himself, but now he wonders because all evidence points to murder-suicide in the deaths of the Hadler family.
Are the two mysteries connected in some way? We suspect as much, but any explanation will clearly be a long time coming in this award-winning novel. With few allies other than Luke’s aging parents, Aaron struggles against fierce resistance from the townspeople and his own suspicions as the investigation unfolds. Jane Harper tells the tale through flashbacks to Aaron’s teenage years and narrative about the increasingly complex case that only slowly becomes clear as Aaron pursues the elusive truth.
@@@@ (4 out of 5)
It’s difficult to surpass the fiendishly complex plotting on offer in every one of the Harry Hole novels by Jo Nesbo. Other thriller writers may equal Nesbo’s skill in one or even several books, but few (if any) are better. In The Snowman, the seventh entry in the Harry Hole series, the surprises keep coming, one atop another, as the suspense builds steadily as Harry approaches the resolution to another case of serial murders. If you can unravel the mystery early in this book, your deductive powers are greater than mine. As a long-time reader of mysteries and thrillers, did I anticipate a couple of the revelations? Yes. But the adroitness with which Nesbo weaves the elements of his story together still kept me guessing until the end.
As The Snowman opens, Inspector Hole has just turned 40. He is unaccountably sober, for a change, and he’s exercising regularly. His long-time lover, Rakel Fauke, has kicked him out of her house because she forever finds herself in second place after his job. Now Rakel is on the verge of marrying a jovial, even-tempered physician who is Harry’s opposite in so many ways. For Rakel’s eleven-year-old son Oleg, however, the separation is a tragedy. He dislikes the doctor and thinks of Harry as “Dad.”
At the Crime Squad, Harry is now working with a sharp new detective recently transferred to Oslo from the Bergen police. Katrine Bratt may even be Harry’s equal as an investigator—and as a workaholic. Together they set out to explore a missing-persons case that is, in fact, probably a murder. A young woman has mysterious disappeared from her home, leaving behind a distraught husband and five-year-old son. Then a second woman disappears. Her decapitated head is found atop a snowman in the woods near her farm. Now Harry and Katrine are convinced they have a serial killer on their hands—and Harry is the only Norwegian police officer ever to have captured a serial killer or to have studied serial murders with the FBI. He quickly becomes convinced that the murders taking place in 2004 are somehow linked to a notorious murder in 1980 that was followed by the disappearance of the homicide detective who was investigating the case.
In recent years, I’ve read and reviewed most of the other Harry Hole novels. One of my reviews can be found at Harry Hole, the Salvation Army, and a gay Croatian hitman. Another is at Gypsies, bank robbers, and the Norwegian police.
If series like the Harry Hole novels interest you, take a look at a recent post of mine: 48 excellent mystery and thriller series.
@@@@@ (5 out of 5)
If you read Scandinavian noir but have had your fill of deranged serial killers, pick up a copy of The Lost Boy by Camilla Läckberg. Like the preceding novels in her bestselling Fjällbacka series, The Lost Boy shines with in-depth characterization and complex plotting that offers surprises to the very end. If you’re insightful about psychology, you might pick up well in advance on a couple of the plot’s major twists and turns—but it’s very unlikely you’ll catch them all. Camilla Läckberg is good!
In a devastating car crash, Ericka Falck’s infant nephew died and she was forced to undergo a Caesarian to give birth to premature twin boys. To compound the terror, Ericka’s husband, Detective Patrik Hedström, immediately collapsed from what appeared to be a heart attack. But months have passed, and finally all’s well in the Falck/Hedström home. The twins are thriving, their two-year-old sister dotes on them, and both Ericka and Patrik are fully recovered: Patrik had collapsed from stress, not a heart attack. But Ericka’s younger sister, Anna, was in the car and suffered an abortion in the crash. Now she is despondent and unresponsive to her children, her husband, and Ericka.
Against this backdrop, six other stories begin unspooling. A former classmate of Ericka’s has hidden in her cottage on a nearby island with her five-year-old son; her husband has been murdered, and they hope to evade the same fate. In flashbacks to the 1870s, a young woman living on the same island has been virtually enslaved by her cruel husband. A brother-and-sister team of con artists, having swindled a fortune from the town of Fjällbacka, is preparing to flee. The town’s treasurer has been murdered, too. A battered wife and her two children are holed up in Copenhagen, having fled Sweden. And Patrik’s incompetent boss, the chief of police, is getting on the nerves of the two younger lesbian women who live with him and his girlfriend. (One of them is her daughter.) Yes, a whole lot happens in a Camilla Läckberg novel!
If there is any overarching theme to The Lost Boy, it’s domestic violence. The investigation Patrik and his colleagues undertake into the murder of the town’s treasurer gives them (and the reader) a window on the issue and how it’s dealt with in Sweden.
Camilla Läckberg was born in Fjällbacka, Sweden, the setting for all her novels about Patrik Hedström and Ericka Falck. She has written ten novels to date in the Fjällbacka series. As best I can tell, all have been translated into English. The most recent, The Witch (2017), isn’t available in the United States at this writing. Of the other nine, six have appeared in Kindle editions. I’ve now read and reviewed all six.
@@@@ (4 out of 5)
In a region of Cameroon populated by people outsiders call pygmies, a Danish development project has gone off the rails. Then, shortly after a visitor from the Danish foreign ministry is glimpsed on a visit, the local liaison between the project and the Danes is brutally murdered. Back home in Denmark, one of the foreign ministry officials involved in the project goes missing. We’ve learned that a senior official in the ministry and top executives at a Copenhagen bank are involved in a massive fraud. Meanwhile, troubles mount for a 15-year-old boy who is enslaved as a thief and a beggar by a band who style themselves Gypsies. We know there are connections among all these circumstances. But Carl Mørck doesn’t.
Detective Inspector Carl Mørck and his unlikely sidekicks, Asaad and Rose, take on the official’s disappearance despite being warned off the case. All three have a long history of doing exactly what they want—and nothing more. Carl thinks of the two as unstoppable: “The two of them together were like a herd of stampeding gnu on the plains of Africa. Heads down and full steam ahead, and if he wasn’t going to join in, he’d better get out of the way.” Until now, they’ve been able to get away with acting only on their own because they close cases at an unusually high rate for the Copenhagen police force. But now their boss, the head of the homicide department, is retiring unexpectedly. And his boss, no friend of Carl’s, is moving temporarily into the job. To keep an eye on the three misfits of Department Q he assigns an awkward third-year law student as a spy, thus complicating the team’s efforts to uncover the truth behind the official’s disappearance and presumed death.
As Mørck, Asaad, and Rose dig into the circumstances of the official’s disappearance, more complications arise. That 15-year-old-boy, Marco, emerges as the central figure in the case. The boss’ spy frustrates the investigation with inappropriate and unauthorized questions directed at suspects. All the while, Marco is on the run from the head of the “Gypsy” clan, who wants him dead for defying him.
It’s all a fine mess—an investigation that’s far more complicated than it has any right to be. But, as the three hapless investigators in Department Q stumble toward a resolution, it’s a whole lot of fun.
@@@@ (4 out of 5)
If you favor mysteries and thrillers full of surprises, you’ll love The Crow Girl by the Swedish writing team that publishes under the name Erik Axl Sund. No matter how shrewd and analytical you might be, I predict that you won’t figure out who’s who and what’s what until at least close to the end of this staggeringly complex novel. And, unless you read at a blistering pace, this is not a book you’ll finish at one sitting: the hardcover edition runs to 784 pages.
To say that I enjoyed this novel would be misleading. At times it’s gruesome beyond belief. And I found the constant use of long Swedish place names distracting. Yet the writing is devilishly clever. It’s difficult to put the book down. In fact, I found it impossible.
It’s difficult to exaggerate just how complicated this story is. It’s a tale about pedophilia, serial murder, unhappy marriages, dissociative identity disorder, a fundamentalist Christian sect in Lapland, the Great Famine in the Ukraine, the Holocaust, and Swedish police procedures. Got that? No? I understand. I could never have imagined a single story linking all these themes.
The Crow Girl opens like so many other crime stories. The mutilated body of a young immigrant boy is discovered, and Detective Superintendent Jeanette Kihlberg from the Stockholm police is assigned to the case. But neither the police chief nor the prosecutor who both have authority over her will provide her with the necessary resources. Then the bodies of two other young boys are found nearby. Evidence links the three murders, so Kihlberg is faced with tracking down a serial killer, on her own time when necessary.
To gain insight into the psychopathology of serial murderers, the Superintendent enlists the help of a brilliant psychologist, Sofia Zetterlund. It soon develops that both women are stuck in unhappy marriages, so you’ll quickly begin to wonder where that will lead. And that’s only the first of a long list of complications and surprises that come to light again and again in this masterful tale.
The Crow Girl is the first book in the Victoria Bergman trilogy. The remaining two books in the trilogy are not yet available in English translation, nor is the authors’ fourth novel.