After the simply brilliant events of the previous Dept Q Scandi thriller (The Scarred Woman), I was a mite dubious that this long-running series could sustain its momentum with another five-star yarn. Oh, me of little faith. Once author Olsen sets the scene, he lets loose a monstrous snowball of a plot that becomes an almost-unstoppable emotional avalanche.
Like the last book, this novel is dedicated to one of Department Q’s supporting cast, Assad, the supposed refugee from Syria. He’s always been an international man of mystery with a dark past and talents that seem more suited to the wrong side of the street… and this time we find out why.
And it’s a horrible story, the kind it’s hard to wrench yourself away from. Olsen cleverly incorporates one of the media’s favourite sensations – the death of asylum seekers as they try to reach Europe by boat – and spins a far larger saga which spans years back to Saddam’s vicious regime in Iraq. Assad’s family, it turns out, aren’t simply dead or missing. For many years they’ve been hostages, brutalised by Assad’s worst enemy. And now that man plans a terrorist atrocity in a major European city – using Assad’s family as deadly weapons.
This is grim territory, even for a genre which has created more than its fair share of bloodthirsty serial killers. There’s not so much of Olsen’s usual quipping humour in here; unsurprising, because it would feel utterly out of place. The violence feels more real in Victim 2117, because it’s set in such a credible real-life scenario. Unlike many Nordic noir thrillers, the action doesn’t take place in some picturesque fjord with monosyllabic farmers slaughtering sheep. Instead we’re transported to Spain, to metropolitan Germany, and back to Assad’s murky past in the Middle East. This couldn’t be less like a typical Dept Q cold case if it tried.
And in many ways, it’s all the better for that. Perhaps understanding just how powerful the central plotline is, Olsen introduces a second thread which substitutes for his usual bantering dialogue. Yes, it’s a weird world in which a shut-in games addict who threatens to go spree killing with a samurai sword feels like light relief – but it serves to remind us that Copenhagen still has its own issues, and pulls part of the story back to its more usual territory of the slightly eccentric police procedural.
Massively satisfying on all levels, Victim 2117 is only slightly compromised by a couple of less-than-essential subplots involving Carl’s private life (presumably paving the way for Book 9 in the series). Those could easily have been set aside, making the central scramble to stop the terrorists all the more urgent. The addition of a new character, Joan, works wonderfully, and his personal journey from near-suicidal self-pity to real peril is delicately handled. Joan is a great example of ‘first world problems’ and how trivial they are when juxtaposed with genuinely murderous intent.
An excellent addition to the series. However, it would probably be quite confusing if you don’t know some of the characters already – as none of the regulars are anything other than odd, and much of the emotional context would be lost. Possibly not the best Dept Q thriller to start with, then.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Victim 2117 by Jussi Adler-Olsen is available at Amazon
Looking for more Scandi-style crime-thrillers?
Meet the Killing Sisters in A Last Act of Charity at Amazon