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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Review of THE SCARRED WOMAN by Jussi Adler-Olsen (New Release)

3.5 Stars
This is the seventh novel of the Department Q series.  Carl Mørck, head of the cold case department, sets out to find a connection between the recent murder of an elderly woman and the similar murder of a young teacher a decade earlier.  Then there are a series of hit-and-run murders targeting young women, some of whom turn out to be connected to these two victims.  All of these cases have Carl and his two partners, Assad and Gordon, working overtime, especially when their assistant, Rose Knudsen, ends up in a psychiatric hospital because of major mental health problems. 

As this plot summary suggests, the plot is very complex with various connections between the cases being investigated.  There’s a very tangled web that needs to be unraveled.  Sometimes there are almost too many connections; for instance, Rose’s relationship with one woman seems too coincidental. 

The quirky cast of characters I met in the previous books continues to keep my interest.  There’s good-hearted but cantankerous Carl, mysterious Assad, and heart-broken Gordon.  In many ways, of course, this is Rose’s book.  Throughout the series, there have been hints that Rose has a fragile psyche; in this book, the full explanation is given for her behaviour in the past.  The author should be commended for his sensitive treatment of mental illness.

Rose is a scarred woman, but she is certainly not the only one; it could be said that there is a Danish det kolde bord of irreparably wounded women, some of whom have become morally bankrupt if not downright murderous.  Admirable female characters are a minority in this book.  Of course murderers may also be victims; it is for this reason that I found myself having sympathy for one killer.

One of the many women we come to know is Anneli, a social worker, who early in the book reveals that she thinks people who are non-contributing members of society and take advantage of social services should be punished.  The motives for her actions are understandable, but her constant laughter turns her into a comic figure:  she “laughed manically and unashamedly” and “She laughed at how well things were going” and she was “laughing at the thought” and “Anneli couldn’t help laughing insanely at how perfect her plan was” and “Anneli laughed.  It seemed like she had gotten away with this” and “Never before had she laughed so much with relief” and “Am I going crazy? she thought and started to laugh again.  It was all so comical and fantastic” and “She laughed at the thought” and “She burst out laughing at the thought” and “She laughed again, holding the half-empty glass” and “She lay on her side on the sofa, doubled up with laughter cramps.”

As in the other books in the series, there are humourous touches. The banter between the members of the department continues.  Assad’s misuse of idiomatic expressions is one source of amusement.  A scene involving a car thief’s first attempt at stealing a vehicle is hilarious.  Comic relief is needed because there is a lot of murder and mayhem throughout. 

The novel is narrated in third person from multiple points of view including Carl’s and that of both victims and perpetrators.  At times the reader has to guess at the identity of a killer and at other times he/she knows who the killer is and wonders when/how the killer will be apprehended.  At the beginning, there are switches in time period that can be confusing; the book moves from April 26 to May 13 to May 2 to May 11.  Fortunately, chronological order becomes the norm as the narrative progresses.

I would definitely recommend that readers begin at the beginning of the series.  The previous six books describe the personalities of the recurring characters, explain the relationships among the various characters, and outline the specific issues faced by individuals.  For example, if one knows the details of Carl and Mona’s relationship, Carl’s uncomfortable encounters with Mona in this book are understandable.  As well, the reason for Carl’s having a paraplegic roommate is explained in the earlier books.  I read somewhere that three more books are planned for this series.  Presumably one of them will focus on Assad’s background. 

I am looking forward to the next Department Q installment.  If you have not already discovered this Danish mystery series, do check it out, beginning with The Keeper of Lost Causes

Note:  I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.