“‘I think that Helle, she does not know very much,’ Assad replied as they turned on to Bjaelkerupvej….”

November 16, 2011 at 10:06 pm (Book review, books, Mystery fiction)

Then there’s this: “‘He came from a children’s home in Tisvildeleje.'”

  And this: “‘The bank robbery on Tomsgardsvej, where a customer was killed.'”

Yes, Denmark’s challenging place names abound in The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen. There are numerous opportunities to wrap your tongue around your tonsils. And then there’s the fun of freaking out your spell checker.

But this is so provincial of me. No doubt  for the average Dane, these terms are well within the realm of normal. In fact, he or she might be genuinely baffled by the name of one of the major east-west routes in these parts: Little Patuxent Parkway. (Come to think of it, in my time at the library I had to spell that one out for people on a number of occasions.)

Ah well. You’ll forgive my having a bit of fun with that linguistic challenge. Now let’s talk about the actual book.

Having recovered from a gunshot wound, Carl Morck is returning to active duty as a detective with Copenhagen’s elite homicide unit. To hs surprise, he finds himself assigned to head up a newly created entity, to be called Department Q. His brief: to investigate cold cases. The number of people in his unit: one, himself. He does manage to acquire an assistant, who gives his name as, rather improbably, Hafez al-Assad. This is the same Assad whose name appears in the title of this post, and whose presence in this novel provides some very welcome comic relief. Why welcome? Because once Carl and Assad take up the case of the disappearance of Merete Lynggard, vice-chair of the Democrats and spirited speaker in parliament, the tension becomes well nigh unbearable.

So: Is this one for the Dragon Tattoo crowd? The Keeper of Lost Causes does share some commonalities with Stieg Larsson’s series. The writing is brisk but not overly literary – well suited, in other words, to the demands of the thriller genre. The dialogue is snappy; the pacing is break neck. When first making a mental scan of the similarities and differences, I was thinking that there was no character in Adler-Olsen’s novel analogous to Larsson’s rather astonishing creation, Lizbeth Salander. But on second thought, I decided that I was not entirely right about that. We do in fact get to know Merete Lynggard quite well. At first, she comes across as your garden variety ambitious politician. But later on, she displays considerable courage and resourcefulness – a model of grace under pressure (more than one kind of pressure).

  Until I received the Summer issue of Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine, I had not heard of The Keeper of Lost Causes. At the very front of the magazine, editor/publisher George Easter proclaimed it his favorite book of the year. “Be prepared to be stunned,” he declared. It will be high up on my list of Best Crime Fiction of 2011 also, along with Gianrico Carofiglio’s Temporary Perfections, Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny, and The Troubled Man by Adler-Olsen’s fellow Scandinavian Henning Mankell.

Oh and by the way, should you find yourself in Denmark’s capital city one of these fine days, stop in at the Snapstinget restaurant (or its real life equivalent). You never know who you’ll see there….

Jussi Adler-Olsen

5 Comments

  1. Maxine said,

    I very much liked this book and agree that it does not have much in common with Stieg Larsson’s books. I don’t see that a Danish book would necessarily have anything in common with a Swedish book because the countries are quite near each other, but maybe that is just me 😉

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Hi, Maxine,
      Thanks for your comment. Of course, you are right about Danish books & Swedish books. My thought processes – such as they are – led me in that direction, without my reflecting too deeply on the inherent absurdity of my assumption!

  2. Elizabeth said,

    Thanks for the suggestion. My Mom loves all those Swedish mysteries… I just put two books by Adler-Olsen on hold for her at the library.

    Elizabeth-

  3. Kay W said,

    The Keeper of Lost Causes was not “a keeper” as far as I was concerned. I almost abandoned it until Assad arrived to inject some life and energy. And I deliberately skipped the chapters about the victim’s 5 years of torture. I am not willing to subject myself to what one reviewer dubbed torture porn, and do-it-yourself dentistry is high on my list of things never to read about. Sorry, but I respectfully disagree with you on this one.

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Kay, you are right. There’s a great deal of nasty stuff in this novel. I guess for me, its virtues overcame its defects, but I definitely see your point of view. And I agree with you about Assad.

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