THE PURITY OF VENGEANCE by Jussi Adler-Olsen

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(Oringe Psychiatric Hospital in Denmark)

THE PURITY OF VENGEANCE is the fourth installment of Jussi Adler-Olsen’s “Department Q” novels.  As with the first three this latest work draws the reader in almost immediately employing a complex plot line and a marvelous translation from the original Danish by Martin Aitken.  As is usually the case, the story line centers around the Copenhagen police detective Carl Morck, who permanently resides in the basement of police headquarters because of his ability to irritate his superiors. No matter how the officials upstairs at headquarters try and keep Morck away from major cases, he seems to outdo himself as he is able to crack cases that have been filed as “unsolved” for years.  The mission of Department Q, whose real name translates into “the Department of Cases Requiring Special Scrutiny,” is to reexamine old case files and ascertain whether he and his assistants; the ever surprising Assad; and Rose, whose personality can morph into her alter ego Yrsa, at any time.

The novel begins at a dinner honoring members of the medical community when suddenly, Curt Wad, a physician who heads the Purity Party, an organization that believes “that we ought not to prolong life in cases where it has not the remotest chance of becoming reasonably dignified,” (30-31) verbally abuses the spouse of one of the award recipients.  Wad accuses Nete Rosen of having had numerous abortions before she was married.  When her husband, Andreas confronts her later that evening while driving home she admits that Wad’s accusations are true.  Andreas decides to end their marriage and as he does, a distraught Nete jerks the steering wheel resulting in a crash that kills her husband.  With a window into the plot, Adler-Olsen introduces a number of other story lines into the narrative including an old case that Morck and company have resurrected involving Rita Nielson, a brothel owner whose disappearance in 1987 was deemed to be a suicide, despite the fact there was little evidence to support that conclusion.  As the author takes the reader back and forth from 1985 to 2010, the sister of former policemen, who also runs a brothel, has acid thrown in her face.  The last strand involves the resurfacing of a shooting that resulted in the death of one of Morck’s colleagues and the paralysis of another.  Out of the blue, Morck, who was also shot during the incident, finds his judgment questioned and there are hints that the death and paralysis of his colleagues was his fault.  It is interesting how Adler-Olsen introduces these strands and how they all seem to come together presenting Morck and company with a number of difficult tasks.

With her life destroyed, the partially crippled Nete takes back her maiden name of Hermansen and decides to get even with all the people that have treated her unfairly during the years leading up to her marriage.  She draws up a list of nine individuals, however, three are dead and she sets her sights on the remaining six, with the list headed by Dr. Curt Wad.  Interestingly people on the list begin to disappear, but each disappearance could be explained by suicide or an accident of some sort.  But, they all disappeared the same weekend in 1987, but it takes until November of 2010 for Rose and Assad to make the connection. The trail eventually leads top Nete Hermansen and her acts of revenge and the work of Dr. Wad.  Curt Wad fears that his life’s work will be destroyed and using a source within the Police Department works to get rid of Morck and his assistants after the investigation gets very close to him.  How the investigation reaches Wad reflects Adler-Olsen’s ability develop scenarios that seem unrelated, but then coalesce in a surprising fashion.  Once Wad realizes how close the police and a journalist named Soren Brandt are to uncovering his secrets he decides they must be eliminated.  Wad’s actions from this point drive the remaining third of the novel.

One of the most interesting developments for those who have read any of Adler-Olsen’s previous works is the development of the Assad character, as he seems to have gone  from a non-descript person who immigrated from Syria, to one whose past begins to emerge, a past that probably involved Syrian intelligence.  Other aspects of the book that impressed me was how the author portrayed his own feelings about the treatment of people who were deemed to be “untermenschen,” or “unproductive members of society” who did not have the right to live because they were also “morally deficient.”  People were categorized in such a manner by Wad’s Purity Party who promoted and conducted forced sterilization and abortions, but were also a political party that was close to achieving legitimacy as they were about to win seats in the Danish parliament as elections approached.  As Adler-Olsen introduces the views and actions of the Purity Party, it allows him to highlight the problems that people who are not accepted by society and treated inhumanly face.  As the plot begins to reach its climax it produces a very unpredictable ending.  If you are a fan of a really good “whodunit,” then the works of Jurri Adler-Olsen will not disappoint.

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