It’s hard to talk about Scandinavian crime fiction and omit Jussi Adler-Olsen and his books. As Denmark’s #1 crime writer and a New York Times bestseller, his books routinely top the bestseller lists. They have also sold more than fifteen million copies around the world. His many prestigious Nordic crime-writing awards include the Glass Key Award. This achievement puts him in the same rank as Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbø, Stieg Larsson, and Peter Høeg.
Born in Copenhagen in 1950, he was the youngest of four children and the only boy. He was the son of the successful sexologist and psychiatrist Henry Olsen. As a result, he spent his childhood with his family in doctors’ official residences at several mental hospitals across Denmark. In his late teens, he played in a couple of pop groups as lead guitarist. He graduated from high school in Rødovre (1970). He then studied medicine, sociology (passed History of Modern Politics) and film making (exam.art.) until 1978.
After a brief career in the business world, he began to write full-time in 1995. Jussi’s career as a writer started with a series of stand-alone thrillers. He wrote The Alphabet House (Alfabethuset) in 1997 and followed up with The Company Basher (Firmaknuseren) in 2002. He then wrote The Washington Decree (Washington Dekretet) which was a work of International intrigue in 2006.
But it was not until 2007 that his career really took off. He turned his plot of the novels towards Denmark in 2007. And his novels on Department Q series established his name in Denmark and internationally. This was partially due to his great talent in storytelling, but also due to high demand for Scandinavian Noir in the mid-2000s.
Adler-Olsen’s novels have been sold in more than 40 languages. Outside of Denmark he has enjoyed particular success in Norway, Germany and the Netherlands being a frequent visitor on the top of the bestseller lists. In the U.S. he has appeared on the New York Times Paperback bestseller list.
During an interview with Huffington Post, Adler-Olsen elaborated on the authors and books which have influenced him in his writing:
Like all Scandinavian writers in this genre, I must pay homage to the couple Sjöwall and Wahlöö, who during the 70’s, published a ten-volume series demonstrating how psychological and socially-orientated thriller novels with a wonderful gallery of characters could be done. I’ve also found the great American and British crime and thriller writers to be sources of inspiration. Ira Levin’s A Kiss Before Dying was an eye-opener. Authors John Grisham and Frederick Forsyth have also been favorites of mine. But I get the greatest inspiration when I watch a fine movie. It’s no wonder, since I have a degree in film science.
So far some of the books by the author have made it to the big screen. They include Kvinden i buret which Zentrop later adapted into a Danish film in 2012. Outside Denmark, the company released the movie as “The Keeper of Lost Causes”. It was the top box office film in Denmark in 2013. A sequel, a film adaptation of Fasandræberne (The Absent One in English), was released in 2014. Flaskepost fra P, (A Conspiracy of Faith in English), came out in 2016, also by Zentropa. All three films star Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Fares Fares.
Jussi Adler-Olsen Department Q Books
The Keeper of Lost Causes (2007). This title is available in the U.K. as “Mercy”. This book is the first installment of Jussi Adler-Olsen’s international bestselling Department Q series. It features the deeply flawed chief detective Carl Mørck, who used to be a good homicide detective – one of Copenhagen’s best. Then a bullet almost took his life. Two of his colleagues weren’t so lucky, and Carl, who didn’t draw his weapon, blames himself.
So a promotion is the last thing Carl expects. But it all becomes clear when he sees his new office in the basement. Carl’s assignment is to run Department Q, a new special investigation division that turns out to be a department of one. With a stack of Copenhagen’s coldest cases to keep him company, Carl has been put out to pasture. So he’s as surprised as anyone when a case actually captures his interest. A politician vanished without a trace five years earlier. The world assumes she’s dead. His colleagues snicker about the time he’s wasting. But Carl may have the last laugh, and redeem himself in the process. Because she isn’t dead … yet.
The Absent One (2008) or “Disgrace” in the U.K. – Carl Mørck is newly assigned to run Department Q, the home of Copenhagen’s coldest cases. The result wasn’t what Mørck – or readers – expected. But by the opening of Adler-Olsen’s shocking, fast-paced follow-up, Mørck feels satisfied with the notion of picking up long-cold leads. So he becomes naturally intrigued when a closed case lands on his desk. A brother and sister were brutally murdered two decades earlier, and one of the suspects – part of a group of privileged boarding-school students – confessed and was convicted.
But once Mørck reopens the files, it becomes clear that all is not what it seems. Looking into the supposedly solved case leads him to Kimmie, a woman living on the streets, stealing to survive. Kimmie has mastered evading the police, but now they aren’t the only ones looking for her – because Kimmie has secrets that certain influential individuals would kill to keep buried … as well as one of her own that could turn everything on its head.
A Conspiracy of Faith (2009), in U.K. “Redemption” – Detective Carl Mørck holds in his hands a bottle that contains an old and decayed message, written in blood. It is a cry for help from two young brothers, tied and bound in a boathouse by the sea. Could it be real? Who are these boys, and why nobody has reported them missing? Could they possibly still be alive?
Carl’s investigation will force him to cross paths with a woman stuck in a desperate marriage – her husband refuses to tell her where he goes, what he does, how long he will be away. For days on end she waits, and when he returns she must endure his wants, his moods, his threats. But enough is enough. She will find out the truth, no matter the cost to her husband – or to herself.
The Purity of Vengeance (2010), In U.K. as “Guilt” – In 1987, Nete Hermansen plans revenge on those who abused her in her youth, including Curt Wad, a charismatic surgeon who was part of a movement to sterilize wayward girls in 1950s Denmark.
More than twenty years later, Detective Carl Mørck already has plenty on his mind. He then receives a new case. It is about a brothel owner, a woman named Rita, who went missing in the eighties. New evidence has emerged in the case that destroyed the lives of his two partners. This is the case that sent Carl to Department Q.
But when Carl’s assistants, Assad and Rose, learn that numerous other people disappeared around the same weekend as Rita, Carl takes notice. As they sift through the disappearances, they get closer and closer to Curt Wad, who feels more determined than ever to see the vision of his youth take hold and whose brutal treatment of Nete and others like her is only one small part of his capacity for evil.
The Marco Effect (2014 in the U.S.), In the U.K. as “Buried” – All fifteen-year-old Marco Jameson wants is to become a Danish citizen and go to school like a normal teenager. But his uncle Zola rules his former gypsy clan with an iron fist. Revered as a god and feared as a devil, Zola forces the children of the clan to beg and steal for his personal gain. When Marco discovers a dead body—proving the true extent of Zola’s criminal activities—he goes on the run. But his family members aren’t the only ones who’ll go to any lengths to keep Marco silent . . . forever.
Meanwhile, the last thing Detective Carl Mørck needs is for his assistants, Assad and Rose, to pick up a missing persons case on a whim. When they learn that a mysterious teen named Marco may have as much insight into the case as he has fear of the police, Carl feels determined to solve the mystery and save the boy.
The Hanging Girl (2015) – In the middle of his usual hard-won morning nap, with his legs on the desk in the basement of police headquarters, Carl Mørck, head of Department Q, receives a call from a colleague from the Danish island of Bornholm.
“Well, yes, I am sorry to bother you, but perhaps you have time to listen to me.”
But Carl is dismissive when he realizes that a new case is being foisted on him. Only a few hours later, the consequences have become completely unpredictable and Carl’s headstrong assistant Rose is more furious than usually.
Under much pressure he leads Department Q into a seventeen year old and extremely tragic case. It is about a young, fun-loving woman who disappeared from her school. Police later found her killed and hanging in a tree. The very down-to-earth Carl is now facing a difficult and mysterious case. At the same time a skilled manipulator with an iron will protects itself and those around it by all available means and refuses to let anyone or anything get in the way.
Throughout the investigation, encountering uncompromising, alternative environments, Rose, Assad, Carl and newcomer Gordon are challenged in all sorts of ways, while old cases and secrets threaten to topple the foursome.
The Scarred Woman (2017) – It has come to the management’s attention that the clear-up rate at Department Q falls significantly short of expectations. Proving the contrary falls to Rose, who has descended into a psychological morass with roots that stretch back far into the darkness of the past. A past in which includes a terrible crime.
Meanwhile an older woman is found murdered in Kongens Have, a crazed motorist has begun a deadly hunt for young woman, and fresh crimes are being planned elsewhere. Are these events unrelated, or is there a connection buried somewhere?
Carl, Assad and Gordon face a puzzle more far-reaching than ever before. And this is happening all while their colleague Rose is in serious trouble. The foursome is down one member, but are they also out of luck? Will they be able to prevent the close down of Department Q? And will the killings in Copenhagen ever stop?
Jussi Adler-Olsen Stand-Alone Novels
The Alphabet House (1997) – During World War II, two British pilots, James and Bryan, are shot down over Germany. They know death will be waiting for them if captured. With an enemy patrol in pursuit, they manage to jump aboard a train reserved for senior SS soldiers wounded on the Eastern Front.
In a moment of desperation, they throw two patients off the train and take their places, hoping to escape later. Instead, they end up in the Alphabet House, a mental hospital located far behind enemy lines, where German doctors subject their patients to daily rounds of shock treatments and experimental drugs. Their only hope of survival is to fake insanity until the war ends. But soon James and Bryan realize they are not the only ones in the Alphabet House feigning madness.
The Washington Decree (Washington Dekretet, 2006) – Currently not published in English. A horrible assassination attempt on the night of the American presidential election kills the wife of the Democratic frontrunner, governor Bruce Jansen. Suddenly, the US is in a position where its new president will do whatever it takes to change the American society.
Doggie Rogers, the governor’s trusted employee, is in the middle of it all when Jansen’s controversial decree, cancelling American citizen’s constitutional rights, is passed and all hell breaks loose. Soon Doggie’s world changes. Her father is sentenced to death for the assassination of the president’s wife.
Society is in a state of emergency and soldiers in the streets are violently fighting disobedient citizens. Doggie feels powerless against terrifying superiority, but her friends decide to help her.
Takeover (2015) – The wealthy, cynical businessman Peter de Boer is head of a firm in Holland that specializes in bringing down major corporations. He hires the exotic Nicky Landsaat as a marketing-trainee with his company and soon he profits from the ambitious woman. Trouble starts when the Iraqi intelligence service wants him to bring down a great Western corporation. Initially he refuses, but he relents after a number of threats against him to have his shady past revealed.
Suddenly, Peter de Boer and Nicky Landsaat find themselves at the centre of a terribly dangerous, international conspiracy in which money , international politics, crime and terrorism form a practically inextricable tangle.
Jussi Adler-Olsen also has contributed to four collection of short stories. They include Over grænsen (Across the border) and Små pikante drab (Small delicate killings) which remain mostly untranslated.
Department Q Movie Adaptations
As of now, three movies in the Department Q series are available for the fans. Nikolaj Lie Kaas stars as Carl Morck, a brilliant homicide detective, now demoted to Department Q. Assad is his partner in solving crime who is another detective (Fares Fares). Together they delve into the crimes no one wants solved.
The Keeper of Lost Causes (2013): Police inspector Carl Mørck is put in charge of a department of cold cases, joined only by his assistant, Assad. They dig into a case about a disappeared woman.
The Absent One (2014): The murder of young twins initially implicates a group of upper class students as the killers. But later the case takes a turn or two from its starting point.
A Conspiracy of Faith (2016): Two intertwined cases linking the past with the present will require the aid of Department Q. So Morck and Assad go on a mission to catch an elusive serial killer, while time is running out.