The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen: A review

The Keeper of Lost Causes (Department Q, #1)The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was recommended to me since I generally like Scandinavian mysteries. It was sitting there in my reading queue, so I thought why not? I'll read you next.

Then I started reading and I groaned because it seemed this was going to be just another moody Scandinavian mystery with a dour, emotionally and psychologically damaged detective with a crazy ex-wife. But I kept reading and soon discovered how wrong my first impression was. This was one funny book!

Well, perhaps I should explain here that the main mystery involves a horrendous crime starting with the kidnapping from a ferry of a young, dynamic, and beautiful Danish politician. Details of her kidnapping and the crimes against her are sprinkled throughout the book, interspersed with the chapters that detail the detectives' efforts to solve her mysterious disappearance, and some of those chapters are very hard to read, particularly if one suffers at all from claustrophobia. Fortunately, the chapters about the detectives are much lighter, some of them laugh-out-loud funny. I found myself frequently chuckling at the interactions between the two main characters.

Jussi Adler-Olsen introduces us to Carl Mørck, a detective with the Copenhagen police. We meet him as he is just recovering from a terrible experience.

As he and two partners were following leads on a case, they were jumped by two gunmen. In a hail of bullets, one partner was killed outright; another was paralyzed and there seems no hope for his recovery; Carl Mørck was shot in the head but escaped with only an interesting scar. His shame and guilt, however, is that he never drew his weapon during the shootout.

Carl is a brilliant and intuitive detective, but he is also a pain in the butt. None of his colleagues wants to work with him, so when his boss gets news that funds have been allocated for a new department, an ideal solution occurs to him: He will assign Mørck to be the head and only member of the new department.

That is Department Q, The Keeper of Lost Causes. The commission of the department will be to reopen cold cases, lost causes, and clear them.

Carl Mørck is not amused by his new assignment. So he sits with stacks of these "dead" cases on his desk and plays games on his computer. Then he learns something about the amount of money that has been appropriated for his department and he demands of his boss, Marcus, that he hire an assistant for him, someone he envisions as a janitor to keep the place clean. He also demands more up-to-date equipment and a car. Marcus gives him everything he asks for just to keep Carl in his basement office and out of his hair.

The "janitor" that Marcus sends him turns out to be much more than that. His name (he says) is Hafez el-Assad. He is a Syrian refugee, a political asylee, who, slowly, during the course of the book unpacks a bewildering package of skills and knowledge.

Who is this man and what is his background? When it comes to detecting, he matches the brilliance of Carl Mørck. Even though he is not supposed to be involved in the investigatory side of the department, he manages to insinuate himself and Mørck gradually learns to depend upon him, even though he is still suspicious of his background.

Assad prods Carl into action on the case files covering his desk, and the first one they pick up is that politician who was kidnapped back in 2002. It is now 2007 and that case is very cold indeed.

As Carl and Assad look at the case file, they realize that it was sloppily done. Things were overlooked or mishandled and slowly they follow every little discrepancy, teasing them out, and looking for a solution to the problem.

Reading the interactions between Carl and Assad was just a delight. They play off each other very well and as their relationship grows and deepens, the humor becomes both drier and broader. I fell in love with charming Assad and even dour Carl and I am eager to learn more about them in future books. I think Jussi Adler-Olsen has created a couple of winners here.

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  1. I got really enthusiastic about your review. This one I wouldn't mind reading at all. :-)

    1. I think you might enjoy it. I should have also mentioned that the translator (I read the Kindle edition) did a first rate job. It makes all the difference when one is reading something in a language other than the one in which it was written.

  2. This sounds quite good. It made me think of Tana French for some reason. One of my favorite mystery tropes is cold cases.

    1. Cold cases seem to be a popular assignment for "problem" detectives - like Harry Bosch and Carl Mørck. The Carl and Assad team is very appealing. Definite possibilities there.


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