Guilt: Department Q4
by Jussi Adler-Olsen
In this fourth instalment of Adler-Olsen’s Department Q series, Detective Inspector Carl Morck and his side-kick Assad are thrown into a cold case involving a string of missing persons who, they soon work out, share a connection: the eerie island of Sprogo where until the 1960s young wayward girls were sent for correctional purposes. Here, forced abortions and sterilisations were carried out so that the girls’ future offspring couldn’t tarnish Danish society.
Adler-Olsen skilfully interweaves this main plot with the on-going sub-plot of the part played by Carl Morck in the ambush and shooting of two of his colleagues. This was first introduced in book number one and is covered in all four of the Department Q novels. The plot thickens as evidence appears to implicate Carl and we realise that someone is trying to frame him for the shootings. This additional storyline adds another layer to the book and makes it a lot meatier than a normal one-story whodunit. However, the disadvantage is that if you are new to this series, you will have to start with book one (Mercy) or else you will be totally confused and will miss out on the background.
I really like the quirky characters in these books. Rose, Carl’s secretary, has an ‘unusual‘ personality and treats Carl with a mix of fondness and disdain. Assad has a secret past, but we’re not sure what it is although it’s more than likely to involve middle-eastern intelligence and torture of some sort. Together these three bring a lot of humour to the stories and what could be better than working in the windowless basement of the police HQ, which adds to the atmosphere and sense of isolation that these three feel in their work?
In terms of the main plot, the subject matter covering Denmark’s eugenics programme during the first half of the 20th century is compelling and we see how today it is still being promoted albeit in a more subtle way in modern day politics. Carl’s main suspect and hate figure is Curt Wad, who was part of the eugenics programme and who, now in his eighties, heads up the Purity Party, which is gaining considerable political ground. His character is a bit too far-fetched for my liking. Like a Batman or Spiderman baddie he just has to say the word and one of his field team will ruthlessly kill or maim anyone who tries to come between him and his ambitions.
My other main problem is the backstory which tends to dominate the book – and not one backstory but two. As we are introduced to each of the missing persons, first we need to understand what ‘crime’ they committed in the 1950s, in order for them to disappear in 1987, before Carl and his team pick up the case in the present day. This means that there is a lot of jumping around across three timelines which makes the story move along at a sluggish pace. By the time we meet the fifth character, near the end of the book, I’d had enough, although, without giving the plot away, Jussi Adler-Olsen does throw in a twist which I didn’t see coming.
A slow-moving Scandi-thriller full of humour and strong characterisations. This is probably the weakest of the four Department Q books, although I feel that the characters are being better developed the further forward we move into the series. ‘Mercy’ is still for me by far the best book.
I look forward to the next instalment, which must be coming soon as we still don’t know who is setting Carl up to implicate him in those shootings. And having invested all of this energy into four books, I really feel we need to know the answer soon.