(The canals of Copenhagen are wonderful!)
A CONSPIRACY OF FAITH by the Danish mystery writer, Jussi Adler-Olsen is the third in his Department Q series centered on police headquarters in Copenhagen that I have read and immensely enjoyed. The lead detective remains Carl Morck, who is assisted by his somewhat eccentric sidekick, Hafez el-Assad (not to be confused with the former murdering dictator of Syria, who is the father of the current murdering dictator of Syria, Bashir el-Assad), and his administrative assistant, Rose/Yrsa Knudsen who seems to suffer from multiple personality disorder. Department Q is located in the basement of Copenhagen’s Police Headquarters and its mission is to solve old cases that have not been closed. Morck is an interesting character who is a superb detective who suffers from his own demons resulting in his banishment to the basement by the head of the Danish police.
The case Morck is presented with is extremely convoluted and complex. The story begins with two boys tied up in a boat house, somewhere in Denmark, who fear for their lives. The older of the two is able to loosen the rope around his wrists and write a message in his own blood on a piece of paper which he stuffs in a bottle and drops into the water. After twelve years the bottle turns up and Morck and his cohorts begin to try and decipher, and then unravel what the significance of the note is. After careful examination and excellent police work they are able to discern a good part of the message and learn of the disappearance of Poul Holt, a college student from Ballerup who is afflicted with Asperger’s Syndrome. Poul is joined in captivity with his younger brother Tryggve, who later in the narrative plays a very important role. After only a few short chapters Alder-Olsen has drawn the reader into the story and the investigation takes off.
In weaving his narrative, Adler-Olsen develops a second plot that finds a man twenty years senior to his wife who constantly disappears from home, for weeks at a time. He is deranged serial killer who sets his sights on religious groups. We find him stalking a particular family from a religious sect called “the Mother Church.” His wife becomes fed up with him, and she grows suspicious which will almost cause her own undoing. The primary and secondary plots come together as Morck learns that Poul was a Jehovah’s Witness. The killer sticks to a routine and a plan for each murder that he follows meticulously. After dinner with a family from the Mother Church he ingratiated himself with the parents under the pretext of taking their children to a karate tournament. Once they leave the house the serial killer kidnaps the children, Samuel and Magdalena and locks them up in his boat house. He would teach this family, as he had done with numerous others that “the evils of this world cannot be kept at bay with weekly devotions and renunciation of the good things of modern life.” (137) The serial killer’s background explains a great deal of his twisted logic as he had grown up with a strict pastor for a father who was the center of the ultra dogmatic nature of his upbringing. Adler-Olsen explores the psychosis of extreme religion very carefully as he integrates what appear to be his own feelings about religious zealotry.
The twists and turns in the plot keep the reader on the edge of their seat, and for me the book was very difficult to put down. Adler-Olsen’s character development is wonderful, and his sarcastic humor through the mouths of Morck and Rose/Yrsa are very entertaining. The conclusion of the story is difficult to predict as you read on and each scene is presented in vivid detail. If you have not tried one of Adler-Olsen’s mysteries, this is the perfect opportunity to do so. You do not have to have read the first two, and to the author’s credit he does not go over a great deal of information from those books. Having been well satisfied by A CONSPIRACY OF FAITH, I cannot wait to tackle the next two in the series, one of which, THE MARCO EFFECT, was published last week.