Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen – Book Review

Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen

If you’re looking for a psychological crime thriller with a little grit, a hint of irreproachable humour and good old fashioned detective work, then the new title from Jussi Adler-Olsen may just be the ticket! Set in its entirety in Denmark, Mercy will dazzle and delight until the very end.

At first the prisoner scratches at the walls until her fingers bleed. But there is no escaping the room. With no way of measuring time, her days, weeks, months go unrecorded. She vows not go mad. She will not give her captors the satisfaction. She will die first.

Copenhagen detective Carl Mørck has been taken off homicide to run a newly created department for unsolved crimes. His first case concerns Merete Lynggaard, who vanished five years ago. Everyone says she’s dead. Everyone says it’s a waste of time. He thinks they’re right.

The voice in the dark is distorted, harsh and without mercy. It says the prisoner’s torture will only end when she answers one simple question. It is one she has asked herself a million times:

WHY is this happening?

There are certain scenes in the book that will undoubtedly shock you – on numerous occasions I sat back, put the book down and thought to myself “surely not”. How could someone be this cruel to another person? I have to remind myself this is a work of fiction – not real life – or is it?! Like any well written book we have no clue to the identity of the perpetrator, we only know the victim and she’s in the same boat as the rest of us.

Stuck in a soulless room she is left to fend for herself. No food. No sanitary provisions. No water. No hope.

An elegant woman, her sparkling career ahead of her, she has so much to live for but the problem is everyone thinks she’s dead – no one is looking for her. That is until Carl Mørck and his assistant stumble upon the cold case. This newly formed partnership is sensational to say the least – two very unlikely bed fellows combine to add so much colour and variety to this dark thriller.

Department Q is like an arranged marriage, of the minds, where Carl and Assad combine to deliver so many unexpected delights it would be impossible to list them all here. From two very different backgrounds the pair stumble from one clue to another, despite the green cleaning gloves Assad likes to wear around the office! Assad is from Syria, employed as a cleaner, but there’s something to Assad that he keeps hidden – he is an enigma!

What I really enjoyed, and this is where the translation really worked well, was the distinct accent Jussi gives to Assad throughout the story. Given the book was written in Danish, translated to English, Jussi manages to effortlessly capture the Syrian flavours – either by clever dialogue, mannerisms or by simple home made cooking!

If he relied exclusively on his sense of smell and hearing, it was hard to distinguish the basement in police headquarters from Cairo’s teeming alleyways on Monday morning when Carl arrived for work. Never before had that venerable building ever reeked so much of cooking smells and exotic spices, and never before had those walls heard the likes of such twisted tones.

Carl Mørck is an interesting character. Jaded and lacking any enthusiasm for the job – following a fatal shooting – he slowly but surely comes alive thanks to this unlikely partnership. Mercy is as much about a journey of discovery for Mørck as it is about finding a missing woman and this blend makes it an intriguing read.

Characterisation is critical in any book, and I know I’m going on about Assad and Carl’s relationship but Mercy sets the tone for what I hope will become an irreplaceable partnership. Assad has no right as a character to detect – he’s a cleaner for goodness sakes – and quite often I find the possibility of amateur sleuthdom inconceivable but not in this case. There’s just something endearing about his character that you forgive any implausibility!

Re-visiting the crime element for a moment I’d like to applaud Jussi himself. It always amazes me how authors come up with these ideas – I often find myself wondering if they themselves are a little unhinged! – or a tad depraved – but it’s this imagination that serves as the foundation for any good book – Mercy is no exception.

Wonderfully written, and a sublime translation, this is one book – one series – not to be missed.

Published by Penguin “Mercy” is available from Amazon

Category: book reviews, Books, Crime, Fiction | Tags: , , , , | 5 comments

  • Maxine says:

    Excellent review. I loved this book too, reminded me so much of Sjowall and Wahloo. I loved the police procedure, the character of Moerck, the interplay and emotions, everything really. I am totally allergic to voyeuristic “woman in peril” type of plots that are so unfortunately common in crime fiction these days, but I loved it here that the kidnapped woman was so strong, never let the criminals “win” and generally was the nicest character in the book.

  • Carol says:

    Just finished “The Keeper of Lost Causes”-loved it!!! Are any of Jussi’s books translated in English? Thanks! I loved Dept. Q!!

  • [...] been reviewd by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise, Maxine at Euro Crime, Mrs. Peabody Investigates, Milo’s Rambles and The Bookbag among others. I’m planning to read it soon. Stay [...]

  • [...] Noir Fiction, Rob at The View from the Blue House, Benhunt at Material Witness, Milo at Milo’s Rambles, Peter at Nordic Bookblog, Mrs Peabody at Mrs Peabody [...]


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