Carl Morck has a bad attitude. He’s a cop in Copenhagen in 2007. He used to be a top investigator, then he was wounded in an ambush that killed one of his colleagues and permanently disabled another. He lives with the knowledge that even though he was shot, he never drew his own gun and returned fire, and he might have. He might have saved one friend’s life and prevented the crippling of another. Carl Morck will remind readers of a character from an American movie, Clint Eastwood’s Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan from In The Line of Fire.

Horrigan failed to save John F. Kennedy from assassination and carried the guilt with him from that day on. Morck has a similar burden, and he, like Horrigan, becomes gruff and impertinent with his superiors. When he is alone, however, he subjects himself to searing self-examination.

“It was obvious now that he had changed. The furrows around his mouth were deeper, the shadows under his eyes were darker, and his expression showed profound indifference. Carl Morck was no longer himself, the experienced criminal detective who lived and breathed for his work. No longer the tall, elegant man from Jutland who caused eyebrows to raise and lips to part. And what the hell did it matter anyway?”

Work is no longer Morck’s refuge. And he needs one. His ex-wife Vigga left him, then decided to come back and live in the “allotment garden” - a kind of Danish mother-in-law apartment/cottage. “Next she went through a whole series of young lovers, and she had the bad habit of ringing Carl to tell him about them.” Even her college-aged son Jesper can’t stand her. He moves back in with stepdad Carl who already has a renter - the cop needs the money to keep all these people afloat financially.

Carl is in a bad place then a do-gooder politician comes up with an idea for a cold case department to re-evaluate unsolved cases that police from across the country still have active files on. No one wants this job. It will be under the homicide division of the Copenhagen Police. The only thing about the plan that appeals to the Copenhagen homicide police is the budget that the parliament has attached to it: “Not a lot, but enough to keep one man on salary and at the same time pump a couple of million kroner into our own department,” a deputy tells the chief. A dead-end office, a dead-end job. Who better to assign to it than Carl Morck?

Morck is unaware that the job is just window dressing so the police department can use the excess money to fund active investigations into Copenhagen’s other crimes: a fire fatality, a rape where the victim died, a gang stabbing, a cyclist murder and more and more. It’s a tough town and the cops are plenty busy. They need more money to fund investigations and they want morose Carl Morck out of their hair. Department Q is born, named for the political party that instigated its founding.

At first Morck is not too interested in the basement office, the desk, the computer, the Moslem man Friday assigned him. There’s a stack of unread cold cases on his desk.

“Carl spent days staring alternately at Google and at the walls in the basement room. He’d made himself familiar ad nauseum with the walk down the hall to the toilet, and realized he felt more rested than ever before. Then he counted off the four hundred and fifty-two paces up to the homicide division on the third floor, which was the domain of his former colleagues. He was going to demand that the workmen finish what they were doing in the basement and hang the door back on its hinges so he would at least have something to slam if so inclined.”

Then he gets interested in a case from 2002. A prominent politician, beautiful Merete Lynggaard, disappeared from a ferry boat without a trace. It was presumed she had fallen overboard and drowned, but no body was ever recovered. Somehow the facts of the case tickle something in the back of Morck’s mind. He becomes interested. At this point the reader is already interested, but suddenly the story tension ratchets up and never relents.

Alder-Olsen is the top crime writer in Denmark. This book shows why. Expertly balancing back story and present tense narrative, Alder-Olsen gives readers an omnipresent view, and they know all the facts as they move through the story at a satisfying pace. All the reader doesn’t know is the ending. It’s a good one. Long before you get there, you’ll develop a fondness for Alder-Olsen’s sharply drawn characters, Morck and his assistant, his ex-wife, the missing Merete, the villains in the story. The plot sidesteps logic in a necessary manner in places, but you hardly notice. The fun in this book is not in arriving at the solution but in getting there. You’ll wish you had another Adler-Olsen to read when you finish The Keeper of Lost Causes. Your wish will be granted in time. Keeper is the first of the “Department Q” series.


By Jussi Adler-Olsen

Dutton, $25.95