Victim 2117 by Jussi Adler Olsen
Department Q volume VIII
This is a series I love for its darkly gripping stories and anarchic, slightly off the wall humour. I’m pretty sure policing isn’t supposed to be quite like this but then Department Q of the Copenhagen police force is a law unto itself. Victim 2117 is a really enjoyable and very satisfying read. Eight novels in this series is just as vibrant, energetic and surprising as it was in the beginning. The story involving terrorism, Iraq and the refugee crisis couldn’t be more zeitgeisty. This is a stylishly written novel, a slice of Euro-noir with an original twist. Once again the melding of crime and comedy is masterly, relieving and ramping up the tension as appropriate. Victim 2117 is a long novel but it’s a pleasure to savour every page.
When I read the first Department Q novel, Mercy (2011), the originality and breadth of imagination hooked me. The combination of laugh out loud humour and a terrifyingly dark story was so well-done it was thrilling. I hadn’t come across characters like Mørck and Assad before and the relationship between them was almost enough on its own to sustain the books. Carl Mørck is a fine creation, an irascible misfit. When we first meet him they’ve given him a department just to get rid of him, they’ve even found a deep cellar for it. Department Q deals with cold cases, Mørck is happy to while away the days until he teams up with the cleaner to work a case. Assad, the janitor may be the best sidekick creation in crime fiction. He has a presence that dominates the page, he’s enigmatic, resourceful, and possibly very deadly. He knows things you don’t learn at janitor school and he’s got a nose for detective work, (where did he acquire these skills? We don’t know). Mørck is always a little in the dark, the last to know, Assad is usually the one to tell him what is going on. Together with Rose, (a whole other story in her own right), they manage to solve one of the most important and baffling cases in Danish history. Department Q gets a big budget, legendary status and autonomy, since then Gordon has joined them. The personal stories are all really intriguing but none so much as Assad’s and in Victim 2117 readers find it much more about his past, this story is very personal.
Victim 2117 opens by reminding us that Assad is a refugee although he’s been in Denmark for decades now. But things really kick off in Barcelona. Joan Aiguader is not a religious man but he’s taken to praying that something might arrive in the post and save him. He’s a 33 year old journalist who’s father committed suicide eight years ago. Although he tried he wasn’t able to look after his mother and younger sister after that and his family fell apart. Joan’s life has been on a downward trajectory ever since. He’s broke, his landlord can’t evict him under Catalan law but the gas has long been cut off, he can’t even afford the coffee he’s drinking in the cafe. He’s about to drown himself when the drowning of another person inadvertently saves his life. Joan sees a report on a refugee washed up off the coast of Cyprus. He hops a plane to Cyprus, stealing/borrowing the money from his old girlfriend. This will be the story to make his name. The next victim to wash up on the beach is an old woman, well dressed, but nonetheless a refugee, she is Victim 2117. He photographs her and writes a moving piece for his paper, they pay him but when he returns to Barcelona he find the editor is angry. What he failed to spot and all the papers who weren’t on the scene got was that the woman was murdered, stabbed in the back of the neck. The editor gives him one last chance, follow the victim’s story, find out what really happened, who killed her or don’t come back. It isn’t long before Joan finds a witness, the it turns out the perpetrator doesn’t seem to mind that Joan is on his trail, it’s as if he wanted the world to know that he killed the woman.
In Copenhagen Alexander is putting his own plan into action from the barricaded fortress that is his bedroom. Soon the world will know who he is and he will avenge Victim 2117. First he will notify the police they can expect him to make his move soon. When the chief of homicide detectives dies of a heart attack and his brother commits suicide on the same day the past comes back to haunt Assad. He’s now in real danger. What this has to do with Victim 2117 is not initially clear but then Assad discovers the old lady was Lely a family friend from his time in Syria. The death of Lely Kabibi is the first action in a deadly plot to attack Europe. . .
The strands of the plot are cleverly woven into unified piece in this engaging thriller with a strong denouement and a poetic footnote. Long live Department Q.
Quercus, hardback, March, ISBN 9781786486172
Victim 2117 by Jussi Adler Olsen