Mercy, by Jussi Adler-Olsen

There’s a new guy in town! So far the Scandinavian crime fiction scene has been dominated by Swedes – Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell, Hakan Nesser, Liza Marklund, Johan Theorin and many others – as well as Norwegians – Jo Nesbo, Karin Fossum, Anne Holt, and company. Some Icelanders and Finns too, but there has been very little Danish crime fiction on the international scene to date.

For sure, the Danes have made some excellent and very intriguing crime fiction movies – The Killing and The Pusher are two wonderful examples – but they have not been very visible on the crime fiction scene.

Until now, that is. Jussi Adler-Olsen, the winner of several Danish crime fiction prizes, winner of the prestigious Glass Key award in 2010, is a man who recently has dominated the best-seller lists in Denmark (as Stieg Larsson did in Sweden, before he became an international bestselling author).

Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy is a spectacular crime fiction novel. It is the first in a series that is on its way to becoming one of the most loved crime fiction series ever in Scandinavia: The series about the strange Department Q, the place for ultra-cold crime cases, led by the lazy, somewhat eccentric and very intuitive detective Carl Morck (Mørck) and populated entirely by mysterious and odd characters. Carl is a guy who suffers the traumatic after-effects of surviving a shooting incident where one colleague was killed, and another crippled. Department Q is a universe of its own, where odd things happen on a daily basis and where the most trivial conversation may at any time go hilarious and make the reader frequently laugh out loud (LOL, as it’s called today, perhaps even borderline ROFL).

Not that Morck and his totally unqualified assistant Assad – an immigrant who speaks a gloriously imperfect Danish, misunderstands anything he doesn’t really want to understand, drives like a pig and who definitely is not what he seems – don’t take their police work seriously. It’s more that Morck doesn’t want to be engaged – he much prefers a little nap in his chair with his feet safely placed on his desk while he hopes to look as if he is pondering something of significance. Morck is the archetypical anti-hero, and a guy who isn’t much liked by his colleagues – a guy who is a little too smart; a guy who sees through their highly polished hogwash a little too often; a guy who speaks his mind to his superiors – a guy who is a bit of a nuisance to bosses and colleagues alike.

So now he has been dealt with. Promoted sideways out into the cold, moved down to the basement of the police station – away from the action – and given his own ridiculous little “Department Q”, and assigned to deal with cases of special focus. Nobody wants anything, nobody expects much, and nobody cares.

Then something unexpected happens. Sort of randomly Morck finds a case that interests him and the dormant blood hound in him awakens. It’s the case of Merete Lynggaard, a politician who vanished from a ferry 5 years ago, that transforms the sleepy, tormented policeman into a detective with a mission. Everyone assumes she’s dead. But for some reason Carl Morck thinks that she isn’t. He knows something has been overlooked. And as readers we know he is right – Jussi Adler-Olsen tells us the story both from the point of view of Department Q and Carl Morck – fumbling for facts, moving slowly forward – and from the point of view of Merethe Lynggard, who is being held captive under terrible, grueling circumstances. And as readers we know that time is of the essence; that this is a race for life, and that unless Carl Morck gets a breakthrough this is going to be bad. There will be no Mercy.

Mercy is a delightful, sweet, crime fiction that is also extremely funny. In many ways Adler-Olsen’s writing reminds me of Leif GW Persson, one of my favorite Swedish authors – the story in Mercy is told in a quiet, unassuming way, the humor is warm, Danish and delicious – not delivered in the form of punch lines, but more smart, little observations doled out in a backhanded, understated manner. And the writing and story-telling is every bit as beautiful as that of Leif GW Persson or, for that matter, Graham Greene, John le Carre or Hakan Nesser.

But Jussi Adler-Olsen also builds suspense with the best. Mercy took a little while to grab me, but when it did, it completely captivated me. And from the point where I started to feel the suspense, Adler-Olsen just continued to squeeze to the point where I could hardly sit still while reading and had to take frequent breaks even though I really did not want to put the book down. It’s almost too much!

This is an outstanding, spectacular, enthralling first novel in a crime fiction series that just keeps getting better. The plot in Mercy is gripping. And before anyone says that Jussi Adler-Olsen is the new Stieg Larsson or Jo Nesbo: he is not. He is the new guy in the town of Scandinavian crime fiction in translation; a very talented, extremely interesting and wonderful crime fiction writer who tells a cracking tale and makes his characters come alive. His style is very different from Larsson and Nesbo, but every bit as spell-binding and fascinating. I think he is a new guy you will want to get acquainted with and a guy you will love reading. This is plum Danish crime fiction – an elegant, brutal, and superb world class thriller. Enjoy!

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