Book Review: The Shadow Murders by Jussi Adler-Olsen
The penultimate installment of the Department Q Scandinoir procedural series starts off with a bang, as a freak lightning strike kills six people standing outside a Danish university. One woman survives the direct strike, and responds to the paramedic attending to her with questions expected and reactions less so:
“Yes, we were together. Are they dead?”
Martin hesitated for a moment, but then confirmed.
“All of them?”
He nodded again and observed her face. He expected to see shock or grief, but her insidious expression told another story.
“Right then,” she said, completely composed. And despite evident pain, a devilish smile spread across her face.
Fast-forward almost four decades later and the intrepid misfits of Denmark’s premier cold cases division are being told to drop everything and look into a very recent suicide instead. Our investigators are surprised at this directive from their Chief of Homicide, Marcus Jacobsen, but apply themselves to the task. The dead woman, Maja Petersen, had once been collateral damage in an explosion that killed an entire garage full of people. Both Marcus and his lead investigator Carl Mørck had been involved in the aftermath, though at far lower ranks than they currently hold. The case was officially ruled an accident, but Maja’s death prompts Marcus to take a look at the file once more. One thing stands out to him this time: a notation on the presence of a small but noticeable pile of salt near the premises. He immediately asks Department Q to start looking for similar appearances of salt at other crime scenes.
The Department have their doubts about his hunch until they start getting hits, all on deaths attributed to accident or suicide. Could a devious serial killer with a Biblical calling card really have been in operation for almost thirty years now? As our investigators track down the disparate cases, they begin to establish a chilling pattern, one that suggests that the next ritual murder is coming far too soon.
Complicating matters are the fact that Christmas is also on the way, and that the latest wave of COVID-19 has struck, causing another government lockdown. Carl is especially incensed by how the guidelines are affecting his investigations, even going to confront Marcus:
“Is it true that you’ve decided once again that we have to conduct interrogations over the phone?”
“Yes, those are the superintendent’s guidelines.” He looked wearily up at Carl.
“Does that also apply for indictments?” he asked almost in jest.
“And if I choose not to give a shit, what are they going to do about it?”
“I don’t know. But if you end up with corona as a result, I’m sure you will give a shit.”
Even more worrisomely, the ghosts of Carl’s past are returning to haunt him, as the underhanded actions of his former partner serve to incriminate him in terrible misdeeds. His second-in-command, Hafez el-Assad, is also dealing with the fallout of his own traumatized family’s return from Iraq, as well as the threat of deportation looming over them regardless of his own critical position in Danish policing. But the absolute worst happens when one of Department Q’s own is taken by a devious murderer, forcing the rest of the team to go underground in their desperate race to catch a serial killer before their own government shuts them down.
While you can certainly jump in and enjoy this ninth Department Q book without having read the prior novels in the series, I do recommend checking out several of the previous books in order to gain at least a passing familiarity with the main personnel and their diverse and entertaining backgrounds. William Frost ably translates the intriguing goings-on here from the original Danish, setting up the stage for what’s sure to be an epic finale. While the case of the Salty Serial Killer is solved in these pages with aplomb, the greater questions of Carl’s innocence and the welfare of Assad’s family will leave readers waiting impatiently for the series’ final novel.