A decade ago, if you asked the question "What great things has Scandinavia given us ?", you'd probably have got stuck after Ikea, Brio toys, eighties pop group A-ha, Volvo and a few others ! Well, if you asked now, you'd have to add a whole list of new and exciting crime fiction writers. Following on the heels of Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbo is Jussi Adler-Olsen, a Danish writer who has already won a whole host of awards including Danish Thriller of the Year 2010, Glass Key Award 2010 for Best Nordic Crime Thriller and Denmark's top literary accolade, The Golden Laurels award.
I'm always slightly wary of reading books by award-winning writers because I often find they don't live up to the hype, but that certainly wasn't the case with Mercy. After getting off to a fairly slow start, where I found the narrative got a bit bogged down in office politics, the pace really picks up, and the finely-honed final chapters that lead to the dramatic conclusion are breathtaking and totally unputdownable.
The crime at the heart of the novel is not outstandingly original but the psychological torture that the victim has to endure and the cleverly formed motives make the plot totally believable and chilling. The life stories of both the victim and the perpetrators are described in detail so you can really understand the way they are feeling, which adds an element of realism to the plot.
In parallel, we also discover the past dramas of investigating homicide detective Carl Morck, coming to terms with the guilt and trauma following an incident that left one colleague dead and his partner paralysed. As a bit of a lone wolf, he is moved (promoted or demoted, depending on the point of view) to an abandoned office in the police headquarters basement to front a newly-formed task force dubbed Department Q. Just like Lily Rush and her team in TV drama Cold Case, his role is to take another look at unsolved cases to see if he can uncover anything new. Along with his loose cannon sidekick Assad - initially a cleaner and driver who soon becomes a whole lot more - Carl quickly uncovers a lot of stones that were left unturned in the original investigation. As he follows up these new leads, often using unorthodox and not wholly legal means, the author throws in more red herrings than you'd find at a Communist Party smorgasbord !
The characters of Carl Morck and Assad are both very interesting and not wholly developed. A lot of loose ends are left, hinting at things in the past (especially for Assad) and future (potential love interests for Carl, a new case for Department Q, Carl's paralysed former partner coming out of hospital ...), which will certainly be developed in the following episodes, as Mercy is the first in a new series of Department Q novels. I'll definitely be looking out for the sequels.
star rating : 4.5/5
RRP : £6.99 (but only £3.29 on amazon)
Paperback: 512 pages
Publisher: Penguin (12 May 2011)
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