A Conspiracy of Faith by Jussi Adler-Olsen, read by Graeme Malcolm

February 13, 2018 at 6:18 pm (Book review, books, Mystery fiction)

  Many things interrupted my getting through this recorded book. (I do my listening only in the car.) But I finally finished a couple of days ago. The experience has not quite left me.

A Conspiracy of Faith by Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen is basically a story of revenge. A man who was brought up by a despotic father according to the tenets of a rigid creed decides to take out out his anger and resentment on other religious families. Most of these people are blameless and quite unlike his own family of origin. That doesn’t matter to him. He works out a system where he gets close to them and then betrays them in the cruelest way imaginable.  Equally frightening is the fact that he has a wife and a young child. He seems devoted to them, at least on the surface.

A Conspiracy of Faith is the third novel in the Department Q series. The name comes from the place to which Detective Carl Mørck and his team have been exiled: the police station’s basement. It’s about as inhospitable as it sounds. Mørck’s second-in-command is Assad, Syrian born but now a resident of Denmark, which, in his exasperation with the climate, he calls “this refrigerator country!” Assad was not even a trained officer when he was first assigned to Department Q. But in the event, he turns out to be a gifted detective. (He has to provide proofs of this gift, in order to counter Carl’s initial skepticism.) In this novel, Assad’s resourcefulness proves nothing less than crucial in solving this terrible mystery. At one point, after he has unearthed several vital but hidden clues, Carl at last gives way to feelings of amazement:

And then he looked up at Assad in disbelief. What the hell would he do without him?

Assad may be brilliant in his way, but he does not have the native knowledge of Danish ways and the Danish people that Carl possesses by right. He is at the same time both astute and naive, sometimes touchingly so. He’s a wonderful character, in my view, an inspired creation.

And this is probably the right moment to praise Graeme Malcolm’s outstanding narration. Malcolm, a Scottish actor, gets it exactly right in his reading of this novel. He’s especially good at rendering Assad’s lines in an utterly convincing manner.

I read the first entry in Department Q series, The Keeper of Lost Causes, shortly after it came out here in 2011. I was seriously impressed by Adler-Olsen’s storytelling gifts, yet I have to say also that the novel approached the extremity of the violence that I’m able to tolerate in crime fiction. Still, I found myself wanting to revisit the characters and the milieu they inhabit. Hence, my decision to listen to A Conspiracy of Faith. (I had previously encountered Graeme Malcolm as a reader of M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth novels, so I already knew how good a narrator he was.)

Incidentally, there exists some confusion regarding the titles of the Department Q novels. There are currently seven in the series; the first four were released with different titles here and in the UK.  (The latest one, The Scarred Woman, also has a variant title.) Your best bet is to view the listing on StopYoureKillingMe.com.

The first three novels have been made into films. Trailers can be viewed on YouTube. I confess I’m wary of them, but of course you can decide for yourself.

A few more words on A Conspiracy of Faith. You will note that I’ve not identified the perpetrator by name. In the course of the novel, he goes by several of them: Mads Christian Fog, Lars Sorensen, Mikkel Laust. He’s extremely slippery, I almost want to say slithery. One of the most thoroughly cunning and evil humans I have ever encountered in fiction.

Finally I’d like to make this observation. I’ve read many mysteries in which the ending was, for one reason or another, a disappointment. (That actually goes for ‘literary fiction’ as well.) A Conspiracy of Faith concluded beautifully – a very moving ending that to me, seemed exactly apt.

Jussi Adler-Olsen

 

Graeme Malcolm

 

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