With the triumphant publication of Mercy, the Nordic crime full house is complete. Swedes, Finns, Icelanders, Norwegians and now a Dane. Denmark, indeed, might be considered in the ascendant. First, The Killing (Forbrydelsen) - comfortably the most mesmerising piece of television I have seen since series one of The Wire - and now Mercy, a tremendously tense and engrossing novel.
Where to start? A fiendish, cruel and unpredictable plot. A broken cop accidentally setting off in search of redemption, navigating a complex and emotional maze as he goes. On top of that his only assistance comes from a sidekick named after the lion of Damascus. Then there is a sprkinling of political intrigue, plenty of highly satisfying cop in-fighting, all topped off by an absolutely breathless finale.
I must admit to finding it difficult to settle into the rhythm of the novel at first, in part because the cop novel cliches seemed to arrive thick and fast, and I wondered if this wasn't another me-too troubled cop solves clever crime story. But it really isn't, and quite quickly Jussi Adler-Olsen demonstrates that his thinking is satisfyingly original, even a little off-beam, and so Mercy eventually became hugely enjoyable.
The story revolves around two lost souls. One, politician Merete Lynggaard, is held for five years in solitary in a locked cell, and being tortured for reasons she doesn't understand and which her captors will not reveal. The second, Carl Morck, is returning to active duty after recovering from being shot during an operation in which one close colleague died and another was left quadraplegic. Morck is racked with guilt about his part in the operation and his survival. Already a difficult man, although a fine detective, his colleagues now find him impossible.
They find a way to side-track him by establishing him as the head of a new unit, Department Q, which is set up to reinvestigate cold cases. Banished to a boiler room office in the basement, Morck settles in to an unhealthy laziness as he sleeps through most of the day as the files gather dust on his desk.
He is shaken from his stupor by an assistant, Hafez al-Assad, whose arrival, purpose is a mystery to Morck, a mystery that deepens rather than clears as the story proceeds. Assad, between cleaning the basement and seeking out east for his daily prayer, begins to scour the cases and is quickly drawn into the disappearance of the Lynggaard, about which precious little is known. As Assad probes, Morck's insticts awaken and very quickly the two men find the merest hint of a trail, which is just enough to put them into a race against time to find and save Lynggaard.
Adler-Olsen's writing reminds me a little of Steve Mosby, and in particular his novel Still Bleeding, because while everything appears reasonably conventional, it never quite is. It is, however, highly satisfying and as the promised series develops I look forward to seeing how the author plays his two main characters, because in Mercy he displays a rare emotional intelligence and insight that should serve the series well in future.