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3 january 2024

Crooked Lane's 2023 edition of Dissolved (by Sara Blædel & Mads Peder Nordbo) is sparse on bibliographical detail. Translator Tara Chace, who does fine work here, is only mentioned in the fine print on the reverse of the title page. The Danish title Opløst (2021) isn't mentioned at all. But it's a handsome book, well-produced, and introduces the partnership of Blædel and Nordbo – Blædel well-established, Nordbo a recent collaborator – to American readers.

Dissolved starts in a promising way. We watch as a meticulously-organized kidnapper abducts a young mother of two. The police in the Danish city of Odense respond to her frantic husband in the usual procedural way: can't investigate an adult disappearance of a few hours, sorry, most people just turn up, call us if you don't hear from her in a few days. (And when we do, you as husband will be the prime suspect.)

But then other people go missing on the Danish island of Fyn, and it becomes clear that the abductions have something to do with Koranic texts that the perpetrator leaves at the crime scenes, and then it becomes clear that those Koranic texts are ticking off the Ten Commandments, each victim in turn representing another of the decalogic sins.

This outlandish premise is actually a kind of stock theme in Scandinavian mysteries. Novels by Henning Mankell, Camilla Läckberg, Jussi Adler-Olsen, and quite a few others center on religious motivations. The largely secularized Nordic nations have a long history of grim Protestantism behind their modern façades. It makes sense to tap into it for crime fiction.

As the list of the missing grows, Dissolved (which is only about 250 pages, and you wouldn't wish it longer) quickly becomes overpopulated. Solving one mystery is complicated enough, but five or six going on ten, and there are way too many characters. In the process, the entire island of Fyn becomes swept up in the interconnections of the various crimes. The island's real-life population is about 400,000, and that of the city of Odense about 200,000. Pretty soon everybody on the island is either a victim or a suspect or part of the witness/family/investigator list, or knows someone closely who is. The case inevitably wraps around to the police themselves, taking on a curiously hermetic quality. You can't call Dissolved a "cozy," but it has aspects of the cozy, as anyone who's everyone in a small community plays a role in the developing crime story.

Blædel, Sara, and Mads Peder Nordbo. Dissolved. [Opløst, 2021.] Translated by Tara Chace. New York: Crooked Lane [The Quick Brown Fox], 2023.