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Jussi Adler-Olsen's "Mercy" is a classy crime thriller that combines all the essential elements of the genre with a highly original plot and a rather novel line in torture. Two threads alternate and gradually intertwine as this terrific story reaches its climax; rarely have a read such a thrilling police procedural.
The story involves a cold case going back five years. Police detective Carl Morck is moved sideways to establish and head up Department Q, a new section which will re-examine old cases that have ground to a halt. Department Q solves a logistical headache for Carl's bosses who no longer know what to do with him; he's been struggling to deal with the aftermath of an incident which culminated in the death of one of his colleagues and severe injuries to another and Carl's attitude, never exemplary at the best of times, is putting a strain on the section.
The cases Carl has been given sit gathering dust on his desk while he watches game shows with his feet up on the desk. It's not until his newly assigned assistant, Assad, starts talking enthusiastically about one of the case files that Carl shows the slightest inclination to get to work. However, when Assad shows him the photograph of Merete Lynggaard, Carl can't deny how pretty she is and he starts to take more interest in the job. Then he learns that a colleague's error might have caused the original investigation to stall - a colleague that Carl does not get on with - and suddenly Carl is fired up to get to work. Is he really committed to solving the case, or is it only his dislike for the colleague in question that is driving his determination?
Merete is, of course, still alive and the reader is aware of this from the outset; the narrative alternates between Carl's investigation and Merete's horrible incarceration and the dramatic tension this creates keeps the pages turning. As the intentions of Merete's captors become clear, the readers - but not Carl - know that he faces a race against time to solve the case. The climax is real heart in mouth stuff and far and away the most exciting ending I've read in crime fiction so far this year.
All the clues in the development of the character point to this being the first outing for Carl Morck and the reader learns a lot about what makes him tick but there are hints that there is far more to him than is presented here. In fact this is the first of three planned outings for Morck as publisher Penguin cashes in on the current popularity of Scandinavian noir. As well as developing Carl's character, it looks likely that there'll be more to Assad's history. There's an interesting ambiguity to Assad, a Syrian who appears to know a lot more about forensics than your average dogs body. That Carl gives Assad access to the case files and involves him so much in the investigation struck me as highly implausible but the relationship between the two men is engaging and looks set to provide some interesting storylines in the future.
As with the best Scandinavian crime fiction there's a strong flavour of the setting without presenting a tourist office presentation, though given the bleakness of "Mercy" you'd be forgiven for booking elsewhere this year. I liked the depiction of the office politics of the Copenhagen police which creates some tensions among the staff of the station. The relationships depicted between the various layers of command seem authentic if hardly original. The government is supposed to have lavishly funded the new cold case department but Carl isn't seeing much of the money, which appears to have been hived off for other areas; the question of whether Carl will discover the fraud looms large throughout the story.
There's no doubt that Merete is one tough lady and her strategies for staying alive in her prison make for compelling reading. However, I found it baffling that with all that time for reflection, she devotes her energies to little projects and hardly seems to ask herself what she might have done to be treated in this terrible way.
A little humour, a rarity in this genre, adds some light to what is predominantly dark, but does highlight the absurdity of the presence of Assad at the heart of the investigation. I thought Carl came across as a rather unpleasant individual initially and I did struggle to really engage with him for the first fifty pages or so. However, when the humour starts to develop Carl becomes more human and there's obviously a degree of warmth there which is hinted at as his back story starts to unfold.
Not intentionally, the 'who dunnit' element is way too obvious though the ingenuity of Merete's torture and of Carl and Assad's piecing together of the crime make this a novel worth reading anyway. The ending leaves a few questions unanswered, cleverly paving the way for the next instalment. It's a book I'm very much looking forward to reading.
6th July 2007 is her 37th birthday, but everyone assumes she's dead. Imprisoned in a pressure chamber, with no way of measuring time, she vows not go mad. She will not give her captors the satisfaction...
Carl Mørck used to be a good homicide detective and was considered to be one of Copenhagen's best until a bullet almost ended his life. Two of his colleagues who were with him that day weren't so lucky and Carl, because he didn't draw his gun, blames himself for their deaths. Now his erratic behaviour is causing concern and it is feared he could lose his job.
Therefore a promotion is the last thing he expects when he is called in to see his boss, the chief of Homicide, Marcus Jacobsen. However a promotion is what is offered as Jacobsen informs him they are going to give him a slight change of air whilst still making good use of Carl's excellent skills as an invetigator. Carl is going to be promoted to department head of a new division to be known as Department Q, whose goal is to investigate cases that have been shelved but are of particular interest to the public welfare.
Located on his own in the basement, Carl is told he will be running the show alone. A clever move he thinks, to get rid of him without actually getting rid of him. After this realisation hits home, Carl isn't really interested in the task ahead and it's not until a Syrian guy by the name of Assad, turns up to do the cleaning, make coffee and drive Carl around that things begin to change.
Assad begins reading the files of the old cases and gets Carl to begin investigating a case of a missing politician, Merete Lynggaard, whose body was never found as she disappeared whilst on a ferry and was presumed drowned five years ago. Everyone assumes she is dead and that the case is a waste of time but as Carl delves into the case he realises that Merete maybe isn't dead at all - at least not yet.
Mercy is the first book in a series of three 'Department Q' thrillers set for release in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Set in Denmark and translated to English, I struggled a little at first to get into reading this book, but I am pleased I stuck with it as it turned out to be a good read.
Carl Mørck was initially a very difficult character to like, but as time went on and I found out more about him and the events which left his colleagues dead, it endeared him to me more. Carl has lost motivation and enthusiasm for his job and feels anger at being dumped down in the basement under the guise of a promotion. Even his former colleagues think it is a joke, but with the introduction of cleaner, Assad, Carl once more finds himself becoming interested in his work and even shames the original investigators who did not carry out a thorough job of investigating the case of the missing politician five years previously.
Assad's character is a revelation, as despite all odds he brings out the best in Carl and also injects some humour, as this glove-wearing cleaner proves to have a great talent for analysing and is deserving of much more than his job title suggests. Assad demonstrates great versatility in ways you would not expect and his pairing with Carl Mørck makes for excellent reading. Assad has no right to be a detective but so endearing and enjoyable is his character, that you find you are forgiving the fact that he shouldn't really be involved as a sleuth at all. Maybe this isn't very realistic either, but I found I delighted in applauding his character and his skills. His pairing with Carl as they slowly form an understanding and relationship is very well written.
I struggled a little with the translation in a couple of places but overall it worked very well. Something I found particularly pleasing was the distinct accent the author gave to Assad throughout, capturing his Syrian background with clever use of mannerisms and dialogue.
Mercy isn't a fast-paced novel but ceratinly became a page-turner. Initial alternating chapters featuring the woman in the pressure chamber and Carl setting up his Department Q in the basement allowed the tension to slowly build and despite a couple of reservations after reading the first couple of chapters, I began to find I was enjoying reading this book more and more. It does however, make for some disturbing reading in places, particularly when featuring the woman held in the pressure chamber with no hope of escape. The descriptions of her clawing at the walls etc make for some harrowing reading and some of this story may shock you, but the author has managed to blend very well some lighter moments featuring Assad's character, to even it out.
The way the story develops and the conclusion at the end I can find no fault with, it was a highly readable novel once I got past the first couple of chapters.
As shocked and sickened as reading some of this made me feel, I also found myself smiling on several occasions and overall I was left with thinking what a great partenrship Carl and Assad made and I am very much looking foward to reading the following books.
Because I'm just learning English there may be mistakes, please pardon me!
Because I currently have much time for reading, I've recently bought a new book ...
*** Product info ***
Author: Jussi Adler-Olsen
Number of pages: 512
Price: (Paperback): The price was 9,95 Euro in Germany and is £4.89 at Amazon.co.uk.
*** Text on the back cover ***
At first the prisoner scratches at the walls until her fingers bleed. But there is no escaping the room. With no way of measuring time, her days, weeks, months go unrecorded. She vows not to go mad. She will not give her captors the satisfaction. She will die first.
Copenhagen detective Carl Mørck has been taken off homicide to run a newly created department for unsolved crimes. His first case concerns Merete Lynggaard, who vanished five years ago. Everyone says she's dead. Everyone says it's a waste of time. He thinks they're right.
*** Content ***
After a dramatic shootout in which one of his colleagues is killed and the other is paralyzed forever, Carl Mørck is now chief of the Special Department Q of the Danish police. He should now roll up unsolved cases again with only one assistant. Thereupon they deal with the case of the politician Merete Lynggaard. The successful young woman has been seedisabled brother Uffe. It has been suggested that Merete had drowned in the sea, though they could never find her dead body. But during the investigation carl succeed in finding details, which the police didn't notice years ago. He and his colleague are finally sure that something is wrong on the case of Merete...and it's maybe possible that Merete is still alive...
*** Result ***
The text on the spine is very short and inconspicuous, so I'm very happy I noticed the book. I heard a lot of positive opinions about it and so I finally bought it.. The thriller has really captivated me from the beginning, not because it is directly exciting, but the writing style can be read fluently and I was very touched from the authors' narrative. Later, the storyline was also very exciting, so I did not want to take the book out of my hands. Without too much difficulty you can put yourself in the position of the main character Carl, that I personally always like. Little by little the reader come to know what happened to Merete and why she vanished.
The excitement is maintained until the end and you can even rack your brain.
I'm really excited about this book and want to read the continuation of it. Therefore, I give all 5 stars.