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THE SCARRED WOMAN by Jussi Adler-Olsen: Book Review

It’s not coincidental that Copenhagen’s Department Q is located in the basement of the police department’s headquarters.  Q is in charge of clearing “cold cases,” crimes that have not been solved and are not at the top of the police agenda.  Although the Department’s record in solving such cases is extremely high, manipulated data are showing otherwise, and Q’s already slim budget may be further reduced.  This, of course, is anathema to its head, Detective Carl Mørck, and he’s fighting back with everything at his disposal to show the importance of his group.

The Scarred Woman could actually refer to several of the women in this novel.  One is the social worker Anneli.  When she receives a diagnosis of breast cancer, her world is turned upside down, and her anger builds as she thinks of the healthy young women who frequent her office determined to get benefits to which they are not entitled.

There’s Michelle, living with her boyfriend, illegally getting financial assistance while refusing to get a job; Denise, originally named Dorrit, currently working as a prostitute; and Jazmine, receiving maternity benefits because she deliberately becomes pregnant and upon the birth of each child gives it up for adoption.  So Anneli comes up with a plan to eliminate those three and possibly more.

This cast of characters is, of course, unknown thus far to Carl Mørck and his staff, but that will not last for long.  Since they don’t deal with current cases, they haven’t had anything to do with Cophenhagen’s latest murder, that of Rigmor Zimmermann in King’s Garden.  However, that killing has brought memories back to Marcus Jacobsen, a former police detective; it reminds him of an unsolved case that he investigated more than ten years earlier.  The current police powers-that-be don’t see any connection, but Marcus isn’t about to let that detail stop him from trying to fit together the pieces of the puzzle.

A fourth “scarred woman” is Rose, who is one quarter of the members of Department Q.  She’s had a difficult life, and recent events have nearly pushed her over the edge.  She’s disoriented, her coordination is off, and she’s having what would be “senior moments” if she weren’t much too young for them.  Usually so meticulous at work, she’s left dozens of reports unfinished, and a recently closed case has reopened her memories of her traumatic childhood.

Carl has a three-person staff working with him.  Rose is the only woman, and she has been with Q the longest.  Second in terms of longevity is Assad, a Middle-Eastern immigrant with a mysterious, slightly sinister, background.  The newest and youngest member is Gordon, still on the learning curve to becoming a detective and dealing with his not-quite-hidden feelings for Rose.

The Scarred Woman is the seventh novel in the Department Q series.  Jussi Adler-Olsen is Denmark’s best-selling crime writer and the recipient of the 2010 Glass Key Award, the honor given to the author of the best Nordic crime novel of the year.

You can read more about Jussi Adler-Olsen at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

THE HANGING GIRL by Jussi Adler-Olsen: Book Review

Department Q has another cold case.  That’s unfortunate from Detective Carl Mørck’s point of view; he’d much rather sit at his desk with his feet up, letting other sections of the Copenhagen police force deal with any problems that occur.  So when Carl gets a phone call from a colleague in Bornholm, Christian Habersaat, he tells Habersaat that the case the latter wants to refer isn’t appropriate for Department Q and hangs up.

But that’s not the end of the story.  A few minutes later Carl’s assistant Rose comes into his office with an e-mail message from the Bornholm officer:  Department Q was my final hope.  I can’t take any more.  C. Habersaat.  And Rose’s five attempts to reach Christian end in failure.

The following morning Rose greets Carl with the news that Christian Habersaat had committed suicide at his retirement party the previous night.  When Carl, Rose, and the third member of their team, Assad, arrive at the remote Danish island of Bornholm that afternoon, the situation is explained.  Habersaat was a regular police officer, not a detective, but he became so obsessed with a hit-and-run case almost twenty years earlier that it cost him his marriage, his son, and the respect of his fellow officers.

Nearly two decades ago, the body of a teenage girl, Alberte Goldschmid, was found early one morning.  Forensics showed that she had been hit by a car with such force that she was thrown onto a tree limb and bled to death over a period of hours.  A horrible death, to be sure, but the investigation concluded that there was no reason to suspect foul play, that it was simply a driver who panicked and fled the scene, not even bothering to call for medical help.  All the usual steps were taken to find the car but to no avail, and eventually the case was closed.

Except, that is, by Habersaat, who was convinced that it was murder, not a hit-and-run.  He began a long and ultimately fruitless search for the driver of the car, and when he finally concluded that he would never find him he tried without success to interest the Copenhagen cold cases office.  When that failed, he killed himself.

Carl Mørck may not be an especially admirable person, but he’s definitely a good detective.  Even on this case, which he took against his will and which he can’t wait to be rid of, he keeps investigating, digging further and further into the hundred of files that Habersaat left behind and discovering things that the small town policeman had been unable to find.  Rose and Assad are terrific characters, with their own foibles, and they are even more determined than Carl to find out the truth about Alberte Goldschmid’s death.

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

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site