Anne-Line Svendsen is a very unhappy individual who is entering the mid-life doldrums. She is employed in the Danish Social Security office and has developed a tremendous hostility for the clients she deals with on a daily basis. She does not have any empathy for the people she is supposed to help, in particular a woman named Denise Zimmermann whose grandfather had been a member of the Nazi SS during World War II, a mother who is totally without any redeeming qualities, and an abusive grandmother. At the outset of Jussi Adler-Olsen’s seventh installment of his Department Q of the Danish Police Department series, THE SCARRED WOMAN, Anne-Line begins to contemplate what it would be like to murder some of those who are taking advantage of the Danish social safety net. As the plot develops Adler-Olsen’s usual panoply of characters appears; Detective Carl Morck of Copenhagen’s cold cases division; his side kick, Assad, a refugee from Syria who is slowly becoming a competent detective; Gordon Taylor another assistant, and Rose Knudsen, Morck’s administrative assistant, who after an earlier breakdown is still struggling to deal with the reemergence of her past.
What makes Adler-Olsen’s latest effort so inviting is that the complex web that he creates making it is very difficult to figure out a series of murders over different time periods. There are a number of candidates aside from Svendsen and a plethora of scenarios are presented to confuse the reader further. Along with the mental exercise that is presented, there is a great deal of comic relief. Every chapter or two there is a scene involving Assad who’s English and/or Danish leaves a lot to be desired. Morck continuously corrects him leading to much laughter. Morck’s feud with the Head of Homicide, Lars Bjorn begun in previous books is continued, as is the dysfunction of his command, and the lack of competence among certain detectives. In addition, a number of characters seem to reemerge, the most important of which are retired homicide detective Marcus Jacobsen, Morck’s old boss, and Tomas Laursen, an investigative technician.
(Copenhagen policemen at a crime scene)
Adler-Olsen does a wonderful job developing a number of plot threads that converge at times. First, there is Anneli Svendsen who is determined to be rid of women who are soaking the Danish social welfare system. Second, is Denise Zimmermann who supports herself through a number of sugar daddies and finally resorts to robbery with Jasmine Jorgensen, another woman approaching thirty who is concerned that she can no longer rely on her body as her chief means of support as she continued to get pregnant in order to collect more money from social services. Third, is Morck’s valiant attempts along with other members of Section Q to solve the murder of Denise’s grandmother Rigmor, and a cold case that is twelve years old that appears similar. Fourth, and most distressing for Section Q is the condition of Rose. She has a checkered past of psychiatric care, a father who mentally abused her and her three sisters. Rose’s diaries are discovered and they are a cry for help as she recommits herself to a psychiatric hospital. For Morck and company this is all a revelation and their relationship with Rose takes on new meaning after being kept in the dark concerning her mental condition for a number of years.
As the story evolves Morck’s priorities become confused. He has the twelve year old murder, a three week old murder, Rose’s condition, and a number of breaking issues, and he is torn as to what he should concentrate on. Adler-Olsen plays on his dilemma, but also creates a plot that in some way links all of these disparate elements by the end of the book.
In THE SCARRED WOMAN Adler-Olsen displays a great deal of empathy and personal emotion that is much stronger that previous Section Q tales. We see a more mature Assad, and a Carl Morck who seems to review previous relationships and faces up to a number of personal mistakes. If you have read previous renditions of Section Q, or about to try Adler-Olsen’s craft for the first time you will not be disappointed. Adler-Olsen is a master story teller and his latest is difficult to put down until the last sentence.