Book review: Disgrace by Jussi Adler-Olsen

by Jussi Adler-Olsen
translated by Kyle Semmel
Penguin, 2012
Department Q #2

Disgrace is the second in the Department Q series that began with the excellent Mercy. It has a different translator, but reads equally well. The basement Department Q consists of Inspector Carl Moerk, a veteran, cynical Copenhagen police detective, whose remit is to follow up and ideally solve cold cases. Despite the piles of such files on his desk, Moerk here decides to investigate one that has been mysteriously left there, even though the double-murder investigation concerned was solved and the criminal still in prison after 20 years.

Moerk, with the not-always smooth assistance of Assad, officially a cleaner, and a new secretary, Rosie, follows up on the clues provided, soon realising that there is a whole swathe of crimes that were probably committed by a group of people, one of whom has been persuaded to take the fall. Readers know that this line of thought is correct because the story of the criminals is told in parallel with that of the current investigation. The crucial link is that of a woman called Kimmie, who is living rough on the streets even though she is a rich heiress. Something happened to Kimmie, originally a member of the evil group, which has caused her to live the life of a fugitive – and there is now a race between the police and the criminals to find her.

Although readable, Disgrace lacks suspense because the reader is told the identity of the criminals from the start. What is more, the male members of the group, whose lives we follow as the book unfolds, are caricatures of badness: they rape, assault, torture and kill people and animals, and invariably behave appallingly, flaunting their inherited wealth. Because they are so relentlessly awful, it is not possible to be involved with them; their role in the book is simply to make the reader hate them and wish for their comeuppance.

The police characters are satisfyingly idiosyncratic; the details of their concerns and interactions are wryly amusing, but in themselves insufficient to maintain interest for the 500 pages of this novel. Several of the personal themes introduced in Mercy are reprised, but not advanced, here.

The strongest parts of the book by far are the descriptions of Kimmie’s life on the streets – a theme, however, that was more compellingly treated in Karin Alvtegen’s excellent (and short!) suspense thriller, Missing. Of the criminals, Kimmie is the most three-dimensional and interesting character, despite an odd obsession with the letter K, though as with the other criminals, we never learn what inspired her to make the awful lifestyle choices that caused her to commit brutal crimes.

I received this book free of charge as part of the Amazon Vine programme. Its original title, incidentally, translates literally as The Pheasant Killers.

Other reviews of Disgrace: Wicked Wonderful Words, and 19 Amazon customer reviews (18 of them awarding the book 4 or 5 out of 5 stars).

My review of Mercy, the first in this series (which, at time of writing, is planned to be a quartet).

Scan Magazine: interview with the author.