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The Absent One is the second of what is to be a ten book series about Department Q, the cold case unit of Copenhagen's Police Department, written by Jussi Adler-Olsen. A best-selling author at home in Denmark and in Germany, there hasn't been much written about him in the US media. Yet his background, according to the timeline on his own website, is amazing.

Jussi Adler-Olsen at a reading in Lünen, Germany, in November 2010
Jussi Adler-Olsen, 2010
It includes work as lead guitar in pop bands, medical science collaborator on the Nordic Encyclopedia, managing director of a publishing house, printer, used bookstore owner, scriptwriter, editor and proofreader of magazines and comic books, restorer of old houses, writer, editor and publisher of Denmark's first comic book encyclopedia (still considered the Danish bible on comics) composer of music for animated film, translator, independent publisher, author of two books on Groucho Marx, playwright and novelist.

And if that isn't enough, he was a crucial influence in turning comic books into collectors items in Denmark, organizer in the coordinating body of the Danish peace movement of the 80s, and in 1985 drafted an urban renewal project “Floating Borders” for Copenhagen’s harbour in collaboration with inventor John Reipur and graphic artist/architect Ole Pihl, employing low-energy, portable, floating steel homes. He was chairman of the board of directors of a German solar-cell manufacturer, and also served as chairman of the board of DK Technologies A/S which produced advanced sound and image measuring equipment for TV and films.

And he has written a dozen or so books.

Jussi Adler-Olsen was born in Copenhagen on August 2, 1950. His father was noted Danish sexologist Henri Olsen who took his family with him as he served at various mental institutions in Denmark. So Adler-Olsen views life with a somewhat different lens than most. In an interview with the e-zine Shots he says

Living among mentally disabled people and the sometimes raving mad has of course had a great influence on my life and on my writing. Through my exciting and also very happy childhood I learned of the duality of Mankind - how bad and evil can live so well together in every person and especially how society can influence which part of the human being is dominate its actions.
And he discusses two areas of note in his work, the first being violence:
It is true that there are not many descriptions of violence in my novels, and yet it IS there, only not in a detailed form. I have a couple of dogmas in writing, and one of them is that the reader must have the opportunity to create their own images from my not so detailed descriptions. I call it the ‘missing voice’ in the story. If I continually try to challenge the imagination of the readers, especially their individual psychological experiences, I’m quite positive that we end up with not only a good read but also a better understanding of the life and individuals around us. And THAT’S powerful.  
And the offsetting humor that was prominent in Keeper of Lost Causes:
Someone said that the shortest distance between two people is a smile. It is not totally correct, but almost. The shortest distance between two people is a laugh. Upon humour you can meet each other in any subject, so the humour is not only there to give the reader a little air in the compressed and scary story, but also a little time to reflect about ourselves and our surroundings, and that is really a good form for ‘down-time’ in my opinion. Both Carl Mørck, the crime investigator, and his assistant Assad have a grim past. We get a certain feeling of that but not of exactly what or why, but with the ping pong humour between them we can meet any information about them later on without losing our affection for them and their personalities.
Barry Forshaw, the "UK's principal expert on crime fiction" has reviewed Adler-Olsen's work in the "UK Independent" as well as in his book Death in a Cold Climate: A Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction. From his review of The Keeper of Lost Causes, Forshaw writes:
Despite clear congruences between Denmark and its Nordic neighbours, there are striking divergences. Danes pride themselves on being the cultural nexus of Scandinavia, boasting a cornucopia of modern design, tolerance and innovation. But, of course, Denmark is no fairy-tale country. The government is under the sway of right-wing politicians (to the dismay of its more liberal inhabitants, notably in the arts); immigration laws are routinely criticised by the UN; and Denmark is engaged in the Iraq conflict. Copenhagen, like other big cities, has its own problems with violent gangs, prostitution, poverty and drugs.
He expanded that passage in his non-fiction work on Nordic Noir, Death in a Cold Climate: A Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction, on page 162, while discussing Adler-Olsen's impact on the genre:
Also, as with so much of the rest of the world, sordid political scandals are an integral part of political life, and examples of the abuse of power crop up repeatedly - within the police, the armed forces, among politicians.

It is, accordingly, no surprise that one of the most highly regarded and bestselling Danish crime writers, Jussi Adler-Olsen, tackles precisely these issues - and in uncompromising terms. His edgy novels deal with corrupt individuals, social outsiders, manipulative psychopaths, and all of this strips away the fairy-tale varnish that has been Denmark's prerequisite since the nineteenth century. Perhaps this clash between non-Danes' rose-colored expectations concerning the country and the bracing 'reality' (as it is presented in the crime fiction genre) might explain some of its success: the spectacle of the abuse of power in the 'perfect' social democracies of Scandinavia; the grim vision of maiming and torture in this sylvan setting has a lacerating force.

One of the first reviews that I wrote for this series last November, was about The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen. It was one of my favorite books of the year by one of my favorite authors of the year.

In brief, The Keeper of Lost Causes introduces us to Carl Mørck, a Copenhagen detective just returning to work after a shoot out at a crime scene left him with a bullet graze but killed another member of his team and paralyzed a third. Superficially he is the typical rebellious, brilliant and troubled Scandinavian detective that we have come to expect in this genre. Exiled to the basement to handle cold cases, he is assigned an assistant, Hafez el-Assad, who is supposed to clean the basement, make coffee and serve as Carl's driver. The first tentative steps in the relationship between the two men is a source of levity that balances a very grim investigation.

The disappearance of a member of the Danish legislature, Merete Llynggaard, five years earlier is the first case the two men take on. The story is begun from two very different perspectives, that of Carl Mørck and that of the missing woman from five years ago. And as we follow both narratives, Adler-Olsen examines corruption in Danish politics and government.

It was a wonderful read, including both the dark brooding mood of Nordic Noir, with just enough humor to lighten it up and make it stand out from the works of Henning Mankell or Håkan Nesser. And I enjoyed the look at how Danes lived and how they governed.

In The Absent One we have a more complicated plot with a little less emphasis on the characters of Mørck and Assad. In this novel, Adler-Olsen casts a critical eye on the elite members of Danish society. Starting with a group of six who attended a private boarding school together in their youth.

The murder of a brother and sister in 1987 turns up on Mønck's desk even though the case had been considered closed after a man confessed and was sentenced to prison. Though much of the documentation has been removed from the file, enough remains to whet the curiosity of the detective.

At the time of the double murder, suspicion had been cast on a group of private school students who were children of powerful and influential Danes. Of the original group of six, one, Bjarne Thøgersen, had confessed to the murder, and made quite a bit of money on investments while in prison. Another, Kristian Wolf had died and the only female, Kimmie, had dropped out of sight. The remaining three, Ditlev Pram, Ulrik Dybbøl Jensen and Torsten Florin, had become very successful in their chosen fields and still remained friends, gathering with others of their class to hunt pheasant on Torsten's estate.

Kimmie, meanwhile, is living on the street in Copenhagen, self-medicating the voices in her head with alcohol. She knows what happened that day in 1987, and bears a heavy grudge against the remaining three members of the gang, who fear her with just cause. Her anger and desire for revenge controls her every action. As the story unfolds, the three hunt for Kimmie while she is hunting for them. Carl Mørck determines that Kimmie is the key to solving the crime and he too, starts hunting for her.

Kimmie is a fascinating character, and Adler-Olsen shows his knowledge of damaged minds in how he portrays her. Even though she is thoroughly unlikable, she becomes somehow sympathetic. It is the duality that is in everyone's nature that is clearly a part of her struggle.

Back at the office, Mønck's investigation gets him suspended when it gets too close to the powers that be. Before that, he gains another employee, Rose Knudsen who finished her training at the police academy but failed the driving test. Totally obnoxious with a voice that would drive lesser men mad, there are some redeeming qualities in this new member of the cast. LIke all of Jussi Adler-Olsen's characters, she has multiple dimensions.

There is in this novel a sense of entitlement, a sense that their wealth and their social position can protect the young gang as they age. It is as if they live by different rules and different moral codes than the rest of us. As if they must be judged by a different standard. Adherence to the law is only an impediment, not a requirement. They are, by birthright, by wealth and position, above the law.

Sound familiar?

Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule

DAY TIME (EST/EDT) Series Name Editor(s)
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alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM LGBT Literature Texdude50, Dave in Northridge
Tue 10:00 PM Contemporary Fiction Views bookgirl
WED 7:30 AM WAYR? plf515
Wed 8:00 PM Bookflurries Bookchat cfk
THU 8:00 PM Write On! SensibleShoes
alternate Thu 11:00 PM Audiobooks Club SoCaliana
FRI 8:00 AM Books That Changed My Life Diana in NoVa
SAT (fourth each month) 11:00 AM Windy City Bookworm Chitown Kev
Sat 4:00 PM Daily Kos Political Book Club Freshly Squeezed Cynic
Sat 9:00 PM Books So Bad They're Good Ellid

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 05:05 PM PDT.

Also republished by DKOMA and Community Spotlight.

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