400 of 405 people found the following review helpful
The Scandinavian invasion continues with Jussi Adler-Olsen's "The Keeper of Lost Causes," translated from the Danish by Tïina Nunnally. The protagonist, Carl Mørck, is a deputy detective superintendent who has just been "promoted" to Department Q, of which he is the head and sole employee. His remit is to handle "cases deserving special scrutiny." Mørck is a chronic troublemaker ("lazy, surly, morose") who talks back to his bosses and does pretty much what he wants to do. He has never completely recovered from a tragic shooting that left his two partners dead and paralyzed respectively, and he still feels guilty that he could do nothing to save his colleagues. His wife left him, but she still badgers him; he has no social life to speak of; when he assumes his new position, he is relegated to a windowless basement office where, his superiors hope, he will remain out of sight and out of mind.
Everything changes when Carl demands an assistant. He gets a lot more than he bargained for--a Muslim named Assad who is a jack-of-all trades: Assad dons rubber gloves to clean thoroughly, makes bad coffee, drives like a madman, and acts like a Syrian Sherlock Holmes. Carl is content to put his feet up, smoke cigarettes, and do little or nothing, but Assad digs into the case files. He shows an amazing aptitude for locating valuable nuggets of information, gaining cooperation from secretaries and bureaucrats, and goading Carl into acting like a detective. This unlikely duo soon become obsessed with an extremely challenging cold case--the disappearance five years earlier of Merete Lynggaard, a beautiful, talented, and dedicated up-and-coming politician. Did Merete fall overboard while she was a passenger on a ferry? Did she commit suicide? Or did someone abduct her? If the latter, who would want to hurt this kind and compassionate woman? With the help of his able factotum, Carl emerges from his lethargy and makes up his mind that he will find out what really happened to Merete.
"The Keeper of Lost Causes" is an addictive read. Who can resist flawed heroes who underachieve until they find some reason to put forth their best effort? Carl is an excellent investigator when he is not busy wallowing in self-pity or having panic attacks. Adler-Olsen uses flashbacks effectively to recount Merete's torturous ordeal. She shows amazing spunk and resourcefulness as she squares off against villains readers will love to hate; they are sadistic, vengeful, and remorseless fiends who enjoy inflicting agony on their helpless victim. It is entertaining to observe Assad and Carl squabble and fuss like kindergarten children (Carl does most of the fussing) until the pair eventually learn to work together productively. This is a darkly humorous, poignant, twisty, and engrossing novel that thriller fans will eagerly embrace.
155 of 161 people found the following review helpful
It's been a while since I've read a perfect book-- "The Keeper of Lost Causes," is absolutely phenomenal. The protagonist, Carl (I won't try to spell his last name because it has letters not on my keyboard) is destined to become a cherished lead character in the detective/murder mystery genre.
I don't know what is in the water in Scandinavia, but it sure seems to produce stellar writers. The story line may not be unique-- rough, gruff police detective who alienates everyone around him and is sent off to pursue and close 'lost cause' or cold cases that nobody expects him to actually solve. Of course it proves impossible to put Carl down and keep him down.
The main murder case in the book is absolutely chilling. It's not your standard predictable and gruesome serial killer. This is some bent and twisted stuff and it took me until about 3/4 of my way through the book until I started to put things together. The book is told from both Carl's and the victim's perspectives and the change of voice from chapter to chapter is incredibly well done.
Carl's character alone would have been enough for me to give this book 5 stars (or 6 if I could have!). But the book abounds with interesting, humorous, and 3-dimensional minor characters. From Carl's kind-of-ex-wife Vigga to his new assistant Assad, there is no shortage of fun to read interaction and dialogue. Of course the political situation in Denmark is also fresh (to me, at least) and interesting.
Like so many other American mystery readers I've been searching for other authors in the vein of Stieg Larsson. I think this book by Adler-Olsen is not only as good as the Larsson books, it may actually be better. I like Carl's personality and found his cynical (yet still oddly optimistic) style very engaging and frequently laughed out loud. I have my fingers crossed that all of Adler-Olsen's books will make it into the English language. If not, I may actually be compelled to learn Danish....
99 of 105 people found the following review helpful
As close to perfect as a mystery can get, this award-winning novel by Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen provides an exciting and unique plot, and characters with whom the reader will identify. The novel is complex but not impossible to follow, and it is also genuinely heart-breaking in places without being sentimental. Warm and often very funny, it is also serious since Adler-Olsen creates an underlying thematic structure which gives a powerful kick as the novel comes to its conclusion.
Copenhagen Police Detective Carl Morck is an emotional mess. One of his partners was killed in a recent incident in which Morck was shot, and the other now lies hospitalized, paralyzed from the neck down. Described even on a good day as "lazy, surly, morose, always bitching, and [constantly] treating his colleagues like crap," Morck, upon his reluctant return to work, has not been welcomed back by anyone. When a new department, called Department Q, is created to work on "cases deserving special scrutiny," especially unsolved cases, the Chief of Homicide appoints Morck to run the one-man department--from the musty basement of the station.
His assistant is the ingenuous and charming, Hafez el-Assad, from Syria, who surreptitiously begins to investigate on his own. As time goes on, and Assad magically pries out information from the grumpiest of the secretaries "upstairs," he often yields remarkable new insights, eventually reawakening the professional curiosity of Carl Morck. Front and center is the case of Merete Lynggaard, vice-chairperson of the Social Democratic party, who was accompanying her mute and handicapped brother on a ferry when she suddenly vanished. After nearly five years, no trace of her has ever been found, and her brother, institutionalized, remains mute.
Alternating with Morck's point of view is that of a missing woman, imprisoned in a pressurized room by someone she has never seen. As Assad keeps using his mysterious talents to ferret out information to help Morck, the Lynggaard case becomes ever more complicated, and since Morck is still dealing with post-traumatic stress and guilt from the shooting, the reader looks forward to the scenes in which Assad, ingenuously, keeps asking questions of Morck, adding a light touch to what would otherwise be a grim and grisly plot involving the torturers of the unfortunate prisoner.
Assad is both heroic and a naïve, serving as a contrast to the personal misery of the other characters, misery which is imposed on them, not by fate, but by other people. Accidents and, essentially, the rolls of the dice mean the difference between escape from disaster and death, permanent disabilities, psychological traumas, and unexpected changes. There are, however, questions about Assad's own background, and his story will probably be featured in the remaining three (so far) novels in this series, not yet translated into English.
As the author examines the various aspects of power which permanently affect all people, he raises questions about government, policing, and man's expectations--and whether man should, in fact, have any expectations at all. When faced with pressures from those whose power is vastly superior to one's own, how far can someone go to protect his own integrity before caving in to power? Do those in power have ethical and moral obligations toward those they are serving? Though the answers may seem obvious, issues of everyday survival make absolute conclusions less assured. Mary Whipple
(Note: This novel is known in the UK as MERCY.)
80 of 91 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 2011
The cover of The Keeper of Lost Causes is clearly meant to suggest to the reader that they're picking up something in the vein of Steig Larsson's Millenium trilogy. While the setting is close (Denmark, rather than Sweden), Jussi Adler-Olsen's 2007 book, newly translated into English, is much closer to the standard police procedural.
As a standard thriller, it isn't bad, and it's title in English establishes it as the first book in a franchise about "Department Q," a two-man operation in the basement of the Copenhagen police department to investigate lost causes (cold cases). There are three additional books in the series, presumably awaiting translation.
The book's Danish title translates to The Woman in the Cage, a reference to the mystery at the center of the book. It's not a pleasant mystery. Further complicating the enjoyment is the fact that the detective protagonist is simply not very likeable, and his Syrian [?] assistant turns out to be more interesting than the supposed protagonist. If I read another book in the series, it'll be because I want to know more about Assad, not Carl.
The book picks up speed as it moves along, and the book is difficult to put down as it draws to its conclusion. However, it's the plot that pulls you along. As a reader, I was disappointed that, by the end, I didn't feel more of an emotional connection to the main character.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2012
The low rating on this book is to a great degree because of my personal tastes. I concur with a number of those that rated the book a "3" but my personal preferences lower this one level. It was the basis of a good story; but totally unrealistic and overly graphic.
The story is about a renegade detective (Carl) who is sidelined within his department. He was shot with others while on duty so they can't fire him. They give him a special assignment to lead a cold case department of one employee (himself). He quickly assesses the situation from a "political perspective" and ultimately lobbies for an assistant (Assad), a quirky Arab guy, and receives a few other perks . Still, they are relegated to a basement office and all that implies.
The chapters switch back and forth as many do today with American authors. Here, the chapters vary between the current day with Carl trying to solve a missing person cold case and the alternate chapters with a running history of what happened to the missing person. The missing person chapters are very detailed and very graphic to the point where I soon felt the specifics added nothing expect to feed gruesome detail to people who like to read that kind of thing. I skipped many paragraphs and ultimate pages in those sections - a little of that and "you get it"!
Like many reviewers, I found the main character a total "turn-off", an over-baked macho guy. If you were to take almost every situation and ask how someone could behave to be purposely obstinate - this guy would win first prize. Assad however was a true "character" who appeals throughout the book. The rest of the characters are "plastic". The primary female characters are all beautiful; the females in lesser roles are in various stages of "dumpy". The other detectives and their leaders are exactly as they are in many books and TV serials portray them as supporting characters.
I did read the entire book. After a slow start (first 40 + pages) the mystery became interesting but ultimately it fizzled out to a very predictable, "please spare me ...", ending. At too many junctures in my reading, I felt as if this was a test plot for an American TV series to see how the "idea would play". Obviously there's a large audience for this type of book but as indicated prior it's just not to my tastes and preferences. (It would possibly have been a "3" otherwise.) However, per a book jacket comparison parallel to Henning Mankell - this doesn't even come close.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
A great mystery novel - Scandinavian or otherwise - must be more than just an intriguing page-turning mystery. It must have a strong sense of place with angst-driven characters capable of introspection and depth. The dialogue must be credible and plausible and the denouement must be believable yet powerful.
So by these criteria, does Keeper of Lost Causes succeed? My answer is both yes. And no.
Danish stateswoman Merete Lynggaard vanishes under mysterious circumstances on a ferry after receiving an enigmatic telegram. The Copenhagen police have long given up; the only potential witness was Merete's younger brother, Uffe, who was brain-damaged in a childhood car accident that was inadvertently caused by Merete's childish antics.
The case is taken up again by the churlish Carl Morck - banished to Department Q, the cold-case unit - and tortured by survivor's guilt after not drawing his gun quickly enough to protect his partners. He is assisted by a civilian, Hafez al-Assad, one of the more original characters: cagey, highly intuitive and intelligent, drawn to his prayer rug, strong coffee, and savory-smelling food.
What they don't know - but we readers do, almost right away - is that Merete is very much alive, caged in a bizarre hellhole by unknown assailants. Every year, on her birthday, she is asked: "Have you thought about this question? Why we're keeping you in a cage like an animal? Why you have to be put through all of this?" When she comes up with a blank, the atmospheric pressure is raised...and raised...and raised again, each year.
So, on the plus side, we have intriguing characters with Danish politics in the background (which appear to be as complicated and frustrating as some of our own). So what doesn't work?
The translation, for one. In too many places, the prose is clunky and over-the-top. Take this line, for example: "And the whole time I see you before me. You and your lovely, irresponsible eyes that annihilated everything I ever loved." For another, the villains. I guessed the ending and the motive less than half-way through and I suspect many other readers will as well. The depravity and sadism of the villains is not tempered at any point with any mollifying characteristics. They were evil personified, which made me believe in them less; their psychosis would likely have been genetic and not event-driven.
But perhaps most disturbing - and I admit, this is an individual reading preference - the torture aspect was anything but subtle. In a time when real torture is worse than anything we can imagine (the Argentinean Dirty Wars, the genocide in Rwanda and more), the torture must be an organic and necessary part of the plotting. I couldn't help but feel that the torture in this book was largely for shock value.
At the end of the day, I thought that Carl and particularly Assad were original characters that could carry over into sequels. I wish, though, that there were more subtlety and a better translation.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2012
This is a terrifically well-written book full of suspense and interesting characters AND,
at this point, I feel compelled to compliment the TRANSLATOR.
(Can you tell I am one?)
Seriously folks, a terrible translator can destroy the most well-written work.
So let me join in praise of this writer from Denmark and his publisher's excellent work in
finding a translator who was able to bring not only the written details but the characters, the
scenery and the aura of tension and Danish gloom to life in English for us.
The story has been described here well by other reviewers so I'll limit my comments to echo their
praise for Adler-Olsen and urge you to read his subsequent works. You won't be disappointed.
And all hail the skillful translators who make enjoying them possible!
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
First rate detective thriller by one of Denmark's best selling authors. This is Adler-Olsen's first novel to be released here in America, and the story translates very well. You're immediately swept into the life of a kidnap victim back in time, who is being held and slowly tortured for an unknown reason. Then forward in time, you are quickly immersed into the life of onetime star detective Carl MØrck. At this point MØrck is just putting in time playing solitaire after the loss and crippling of his two partners at a botched crime scene disaster. MØrck is riddled with guilt for his perceived failed attempt to protect his partners. The author slowly weaves these two past and present lives together, revealing bit by bit more of the background of the two protagonists (victim and detective).
Given the phenomenal popularity of the late Stieg Larsson's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" series, it's no wonder more crime fiction from Denmark is making it's way to America. To help people make the connection between these two authors, the publisher has jacketed this book with virtually the same cover style as Larsson's. The similarities don't stop there, the detail and pacing are very similar; as well as character elements such as having a conflicted or struggling main character, who finds himself involved with a rather twisted and psychotic villain. MØrck's unlikely side-kick Assad is a great comedic foil to MØrck's early disengagement, and develops into a perfect "Dr. Watson" assistant.
Through well drawn characters, a unique setting, suspenseful plotting, and a little well placed humor, Adler-Olsen has written the first installment of a solid crime fiction tale that will surely develop a strong following in America for the next Department Q cold case solution in the future.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2011
I had high expectations for this book in that most reviews were quite positive. First of all, the translation is really not too polished and could be improved. After reading other Scandinavian mysteries it is clear that the english translation of this book is of a lower caliber. It is obvious that the publisher is trying to ride the coattails of the "Girl with the Dragon Tatoo" series with the english name of the book and the cover that even looks a bit like the millennium series U.S. editions--not that I have a problem with that, just something that struck me. I enjoyed that Carl and Assad are two unlikely heros and the complexity of their alliance in terms of the difference in cultures and my understanding that there are serious issues with immigrants in Denmark, so I really liked this aspect of the book.
SPOILER ALERT: Where I really had an incredibly hard time with the book was when I found at that not just one deranged person was out to slowly torture and kill Merete, but that a whole family was in on it. This was just way too unbelievable for me. Many of these detective/thriller genre books are replete with eyebrow raising coincidence and hard-to-swallow scenarios (Jo Nesbo's The Snowman being a prime example, and many American thrillers as well) but I understand that most stories need some of this to make them work. The problem with this book is that this "scenario" overshadows the credibility of the entire book. You have to believe that this family, even though they survived a horrible tragedy, has learned nothing except misguided hatred toward one person and their incredible and complete cruelty toward Merete, haunting in the telling, actually detracts from the story and gives them no depth as characters. So we see Carl, Assad, and even Merete as complex and conflicted individuals, as most people truly are, but her captors are of one mind which make them dull, unrealistic, and unbelievable.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Billed as an international bestseller, "The Keeper of Lost Causes"is the work of a Danish author who has joined his Swedish and Norwegian colleagues with a work that is quite accomplished within its genre. While it incorporates the usual components of Scandinavian crime fiction, including an irascible divorced detective with a past who marches to his own drummer, it is distinguished by the fact that for once the victim in the drama isn't actually dead, even though she disappeared five years before the bulk of the story is set. That alone is a refreshing twist, although her captors subject her to such degrading treatment that I started to dread the chapters where she appears. (I guess that's a measure of Adler-Olsen's skill as a writer--he's able to elicit unease without going over the top.)
Carl Morck was a brilliant but problematic detective before he and two close colleagues were caught in an ambush; one was killed and the other left a quadriplegic. Physically, Morck escaped with little more than grazing by a bullet, but he is struggling with guilt, a certain amount of PTSD and a complicated private life. When he comes back to work, he is assigned to the newly created Department Q, focused on cold cases, which to his superiors amounts to getting him out of their way while enabling them to seize the funding that has been allocated for the department. Naturally, he continuously outsmarts them, often with the help of his assistant, the Syrian refugee Assad, who has his own checkered and mysterious past. Morck is given a stack of 40 or so cases and through sheer happenstance starts with the disappearance of a controversial but (naturally) attractive politician, Merete Lynggard, who vanished off a ferry to Berlin. The only witness was her brain-damaged brother, who is unable to speak. Adler-Olsen keeps things interesting by introducing a number of related subplots and characters: a stepson and tenant who live with Morck, his relationship with his paralyzed colleague, a predatory and unscrupulous journalist, another murder case that Morck's former colleagues are bungling, an accident that took the lives of Lynggard's parents and injured her brother, etc. Naturally, in the end all the loose ends are tied up, with plenty of missteps, dead ends and suspense and a surprising amount of humor, which is most welcome in a genre that is known for often being grim. The relationship between Morck and Assad is especially entertaining and provides yet another glimpse at the tensions between Scandinavian natives and recent immigrants--a recurring theme in a number of books in the field.
In all, this is a satisfying book, with a few awkward bits of dialogue sprinkled throughout--perhaps the result of the translation--and a few stretches that move a bit slowly, IMO. While I don't know that I agree with the German reviewer who declared Adler-Olsen as good as Stieg Larsson (or, for that matter, Henning Mankell, my favorite), "The Keeper of Lost Causes" is a first-rate effort and certainly worth reading for fans of Scandinavian crime fiction.