The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

December 30, 2013


The fourth installment in the Department Q series finds police detective Carl Morck in the emotional throes stemming from new evidence in the case in which he lost one partner and another was left a quadraplegic. And his pangs may be more than emotional since much of the evidence damningly points at his involvement in the shootings.

And this is merely a subplot. The main plot has two branches, one of which grows from the cold case files Morck's team (comprised of the dangerous, mysterious, and oft hilarious Assad, and the multiple-personality plagued Rose) manages. Rose and Assad begin finding links between several missing-person cases: people who disappeared on the same day, people of differing occupations who came from different parts of Denmark but who all were in or were bound for Copenhagen when last seen, people who did not know each other but most of whom were known by an elderly, reclusive widow. The second branch of the plot involves a doctor, Curt Wad, whose medical ethics the reader will recognize as stemming almost directly from those of Josef Mengele. The less-than-good doctor is one of the founders and mainstays of the Purity Party, whose growing membership is chockful of right wingnuts, bigots, and extreme nationalists. Like the early Nazi party it so closely resembles, the Purity Party is secretive, elitist, and very, very dangerous.

The author does an admirable job of connecting the many disparate characters while sliding back and forth across more than four decades of story, though the backstory process goes on at some length and at the expense of the more sympathetic main characters. For such serious topics as eugenics, forced abortion and sterilization, rape, and murder, the story is fortunately leavened with a good deal of humor to offset the depressing banality of evil. That's good, yes, but the humor leans less on character and situation than in prior books, and more on basic bodily functions. An instance or two brings a smile to the reader, but after a time one begins to hope (in vain) for no further scatological revelations.

If this book has a serious flaw it is in the many villains the reader encounters. Dr. Wad is certainly a fine villain, and the primary example. He is cold, callous, intelligent while being obtuse, and horribly cunning. Yet the focus is continually pulled away to one of the many other villainous characters who, although evil enough in their own right, lack the mesmerizing quality of the inhuman doctor. I've long held that one single superb villain makes for a better story than a dozen such characters, and this book supports my argument.

Despite this, what makes the book an overall winner is the very nifty twist in the denouement, a Hitchcockian twist that this reader did not see coming, but should have as the author very fairly provided all the clues. And yet I have not felt so blindsided since the ending of the film, The Sixth Sense. The ending, plus the way the author made me feel that, no matter how populated the world is with evil, there is still hope; that as bad as things may be,  as wrong and unfair as the world can be, there is always, always hope - these things prompt me to RECOMMEND this book.