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THE ABSENT ONE by Jussi Adler-Olsen: Book Review

These Scandinavian authors certainly know how to freeze their readers’ blood.

Carl Morck has been exiled to Department Q, Copenhagen’s cold case office.  And exiled is the right word, because Department Q is in the police department’s basement, far from the bustle of others doing their work.   However, it’s also far from the higher-ups who might be tempted to oversee Carl’s work, and Carl, ever the loner, likes that just fine.

Due to Carl’s outstanding work in a previous cold case, he’s greeted as a returning hero by his colleagues after his three-week vacation.  His Iraqui assistant, Assad, is delighted to see him, but Carl still isn’t sure how he feels about Assad.  He is sure, however, how he feels about his new secretary, Rose, a police recruit who failed her driver’s test and thus must make do with being a secretary rather than a detective; he’s sure he’s going to take the first opportunity to get her transferred out of his department.

Immediately after Carl’s return to work, a file appears on his desk that contains reports of a double murder that took place in 1987, twenty-five years ago.   A brother and sister were brutally killed in their parents’ vacation home.  There are two strange features about the case:  a man confessed nine years afterward to the killings and has been in prison ever since, and no one will admit to putting the folder in Department Q’s files.

Although there was no discernible motive, a group of students at a local boarding school were suspected of the murders and with involvement in other incidents as well.  There were five males and one female in the group, all of whom except one came from extremely wealthy homes.  The man who confessed to the crimes is Bjarne Thogersen, the only one of the group who came from modest means.

When it came time for the trial, the other students’ fathers were very visible in court, with their high-paid attorneys, and no charges were ever filed against their sons.  Now grown men themselves, the former students have surpassed their own fathers in the accumulation of wealth:  Ditlev Fram, now owner of, among other things, a string of medical facilities specializing in plastic surgery to the rich and famous; Torsten Florin, clothing designer; Ulrik Dyboll, financial wizard; and the late Kristian Wolf, killed by an accidental self-inflicted wound while hunting.  The lone woman, Kirsten-Marie Lassen, has disappeared and hasn’t been seen in years.

Intrigued by the fact that the file on this double killing seems to have come out of nowhere, Carl begins an investigation, spurred on by the fact that the father of the brother and sister killed was a policeman, Henning Jorgensen.  Immediately after seeing his children’s mutilated bodies, Henning went home and turned his gun on himself.  Now there is only the mother left, and her mind and body have been unhinged by this triple tragedy.

The characters in The Absent One are wonderfully drawn.  Carl Morck is a man who wants to be left alone to pursue his cases, but naturally departmental politics interfere.  Assad is learning the ropes as an “assistant assistant detective,” but I’m sure I’m not the only reader who thinks there’s more to this recent immigrant than meets the eye.  And when Rose is introduced, she of the dyed jet-black hair and braying laugh, we know there will be fireworks between her and Carl.

You can read more about Jussi Adler-Olsen at his web site.

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