Another great novel in the Department Q crime thriller series of this Danish author, with Detective Carl Morck and his side-kicks Assad and Rose up against a kidnapper and murderer. Adler-Olsen manages to convey the somewhat gloomy quality of the classic Nordic police procedural, but leavens it with unexpectedly quirky humor and personal side stories which capture the humanity of the victims as much as that of the dogged cops assigned to protect them.
This is not a classic who-done-it, as we are introduced to the scary psycho who has been operating with impunity for decades right at the beginning, but the author takes care to take us backwards in time and then forward to better understand the nature of the victims being chosen and the unique mania of the killer himself, as we follow the edge-of-our-seats hunt to catch him before he kills yet again. A victim himself of horrible abuse as a child, our villain is now preying on the fanatic religious sects to which his own horror of a father belonged. He infiltrates these sects, targets large families of means, seizes two of their children, and then demands a ransom, after which he kills one child and releases the other with the threat that he can take more of their children at any time if they pursue him. The families quickly hush up the incident, and due to the isolated nature of these sects, no one outside the family is alerted to the murderous deeds.
That is, until a bottle washes ashore with a barely legible note written in the blood of one of the children, begging for help. However, the bottle goes unheeded in the police station to which it has been brought for a decade, and when it is finally discovered, it falls to the Department Q of cold cases, headed by Morck, to pursue the almost non-existent clues.
The author uses multiple sub-plots to fill in the backstories on our characters, including that of the mysterious Assad and Rose who appear to have secret lives and which carry forward from one novel to the next. But one sub-plot surrounds that of the killer himself and, in fact, contains the key to his undoing (not really a spoiler: you didn’t think he got away with it, did you?). The climax is as dramatic as it should be, and the ending leaves just enough of a butterfly in the stomach to earn it an extra star.