Doreen's Reviews > The Absent One

The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen
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's review
Aug 27, 12

bookshelves: personal-library
Read in August, 2012

I thought the first of the Department Q series, "The Keeper of Lost Causes", was a keeper and so looked forward to this second installment about Detective Carl Morck and his assistant Assad who investigate cold cases in Copenhagen.

This time a closed case mysteriously lands on Morck’s desk. A brother and sister were murdered 20 years earlier and one of the suspects, the least privileged of a group of boarding-school students, confessed. A re-opening of the case soon suggests that all is not as it seems and that the group members were very involved in this and perhaps other cases of assault and disappearances. Morck sets out to find Kristen-Marie (Kimmie), once a member of the group and now a mentally ill bag lady, who apparently has some dangerous secrets.

The story is narrated from several points of view: Carl’s, Kimmie’s and that of three of the group (Ditlev Pram, Ulrik Dybbol Jensen, and Torsten Florin) who have all become wealthy leaders of Danish society.

The book features three cat-and-mouse chases: Morck searches for Kimmie to get information; Pram, Jensen and Florin hunt for Kimmie to silence her; and Kimmie sets out to find her three former friends to exact revenge for actions which are brought to light via flashbacks. The climax, of course, comes near the end when the hunts, with all hunted and hunters present, converge.

As with the first book, the reader will experience a gamut of emotions: heartbreak, stomach-twisting suspense and humour. Much of the humour derives from the addition of a member to Morck’s department. Rose Knudsen proves to be competent and resourceful, but she is also prickly, stubborn and sharp-tongued, so confrontations with Morck are inevitable.

There are two major problems with the book. One is that the villains are totally evil, with no redeeming qualities. The brutality and depravity of the crimes suggests they are totally pathological. Little explanation is given for motivation except that they are ruthless people with total indifference towards others who are seduced by violence into a constant hunt for excitement. Besides the unconvincing characterization of the evil-doers, the other problem is that so many cases of assaults and disappearances can go unsolved for a 20-year time period. That stretches the limits of credibility. It is conceivable that the wealthy can count on money, networks and favours for protection, but the number of crimes and the length of time involved make total escape from serious suspicion, if not prosecution, highly unlikely.

This book would best be read after "The Keeper of Lost Causes" since it includes so much character development. Characters reappear and without the benefit of the first book, a reader will have a rather superficial understanding of them.

Despite its flaws, this psychological thriller is fast-paced, features strongly developed characters in Department Q, and has a detailed plot. I look forward to the third episode.

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