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the absent one

1 october 2012

The Absent One is an uninhibitedly lurid crime novel. Its villains are outlandishly evil, off the charts on just about every factor for which there is a despicability scale. This is good, because its hero Carl Mørck isn't such a likeable guy himself, and his sidekicks are downright irritating. If they didn't have the worst people in the Universe to serve as their foils, nobody would want to read about them.

I do like reading Jussi Adler-Olsen's Carl Mørck novels, despite the somewhat cardboardy bad guys in this second installment (a sequel to The Keeper of Lost Causes). Carl and his sidekick Assad are still in their makeshift basement office, but they're joined by a new sidekick named Rose (an overbearing secretary who, like the nominal janitor Assad, is just as good a detective as her boss).

Their cold case, in this novel, has been given them not by the Danish police bureaucracy but by another of the janitors in the office, who believes that there's something rotten … well, you know. A brother and sister had been savagely killed many, many years before; one of the gang suspected in their death had ultimately confessed, years later, to committing the murder unaided. But what if the gang were all guilty, and had kept killing for years? What if one of them is loose and insane on the streets of Copenhagen – while the others have become the wealthiest, and most unspeakable, men in Denmark?

The Absent One has elements of Karin Alvtegen's Missing, and of Donna Tartt's Secret History, and a splash of The Most Dangerous Game. Carl Mørck continues hard-bitten and bedevilled, but I think he's growing a heart in this novel. I'll proceed to the third volume and tell you if my suspicions are confirmed.

Adler-Olsen, Jussi. The Absent One. [Fasandræberne, 2008.] Translated by K.E. Semmel as Disgrace, 2012. New York: Dutton [Penguin], 2012.

French title: Tueurs de faisans
German title: Schändung