Review: The Scarred Woman by Jussi Adler-Olsen

The Scarred Woman by Jussi Adler-Olsen is the seventh book in the Department Q series.

Carl Mørck, the crotchety-but-very-skilled homicide detective whose Copenhagen-based Department Q is relegated to the basement, is back in the seventh installment of Adler-Olsen’s unusual series. I’ll admit, when I read the first book, The Keeper of Lost Causes, I wasn’t sure if Carl was for me. He ticks a lot of my boxes, though. I like my detectives cranky with a genuinely good heart buried underneath all that rough and tumble, but he’s missing some of the existential angst that I love so much. But … that’s ok. I fell in love with Carl and his Middle Eastern “assistant” Assad, who serves up a coffee concoction that will knock your socks off and is so much more than he seems. His background still isn’t clear seven books in, although he seems well-versed in the more darker arts of policing, much to Carl’s frequent chagrin. 

For those new to the series, Department Q is basically the department’s cold-case crew, formed as a way for Carl’s (former) boss to relegate him to the basement while showing the brass they could get things done. It was formed after a shooting that killed a member of Carl’s team and paralyzed another—he’s now living with Carl—and Carl was a right mess after that. But it’s been nine years, and a LOT has happened. 

There’s, of course, a properly complicated case (actually a few) driving part of the narrative of The Scarred Woman, but this is really Rose’s book. So, let’s talk about Rose Knudsen. Rose makes her first appearance in the second book of the series, The Absent One, and she’s certainly an odd duck from the beginning. But she proves to be an asset to the group, and Carl comes to care about her despite himself.

Rose has already been committed once, but things come to a terrifying head, and her descent into madness is terrifying: 

Rose braked the scooter two hundred meters before the red light.

She suddenly couldn’t remember the way. Even though she had taken the same route for so many years, it didn’t look like it normally did today.

She looked around. Only ten minutes ago in Ballerup it had been the same and now it was happening again. Her memory was playing tricks on her. Of course she knew that she couldn’t drive through the viaduct and up on to Bispeengbuen on a scooter, which was only allowed to travel at thirty kilometers an hour. So where was it she was meant to turn? Was there a road a little further along that went down towards Borups Alle? Maybe to the right?

In desperation, she rested the tips of her toes on the tarmac and pressed her lips together. “What’s going on with you, Rose?” she said aloud, causing a passer-by to shake their head before hurrying away.

She coughed a couple of times in frustration, feeling like she was about to throw up. She stared in bewilderment at the traffic, which resembled an endless chaos of playing pieces at war with one another. The deep humming of dozens of engines and even just the variety of colors of the vehicles caused her to break out in a cold sweat.

She closed her eyes and tried to remember what she could do blindfolded. For a moment, she considered turning around and driving home but then she would have to cross the road and how would she manage to do that? When it came to it, could she even remember the way home? She shook her head. Why on earth should she turn around when she was closer to the police headquarters than she was to home? It didn’t make any sense.

Rose had been in this state of confusion for several days now, and suddenly it felt as if her body had become too small for everything it was carrying. As if all the thoughts swarming in her head that she couldn’t cope with, couldn’t even be contained in several heads. If she didn’t break down when she was feeling like this, coming up instead with all sorts of strange ideas to avoid it, she’d probably slowly burn out.

Rose bit her cheek until it bled. Maybe the ward in Glostrup had discharged her too early last time. One of her sisters had certainly implied it, and there was no mistaking Assad’s worried looks. Could she really rule out that her sister might have been right? Maybe it wasn’t an alarming mix of depression and personality disorder that were at the root of her breakdown. Was she basically just ins…?

“STOP these thoughts, Rose!” she blurted out, and once again a passer-by turned and stared at her.

When Rose admits herself to the psychiatric hospital again, seemingly worse than ever, Carl and Co. decide to find out the truth about Rose’s father’s death almost ten years ago. Rose was there, and they have a sinking feeling she may have had something to do with it. 

Additionally, they get dragged into an active case involving a social worker, Anne-Line Svendsen, who is disgusted with all the well-dressed young women taking advantage of the system. When she’s diagnosed with cancer, she feels as if she has nothing to lose and decides to rid the world of what she considers wastrels.

Anne-Line “Anneli” is a piece of work. She’s somewhat sympathetic; these women are awful. In fact, one of them might be a murderer herself, and they have no problem with taking advantage or hurting people to get what they want. But, of course, murder is never the answer. It's darkly funny watching the lengths Anneli goes to in her research of the best way to go about murder and not get caught, and she undeniably gets results, eventually descending into a spiral of no return.

Here’s where this series diverges from what I usually like when it comes to suspense: the humor. Adler-Olsen is funny, but it’s a black humor that may not work quite so well in other hands. For those new to the series that like things dark, don’t worry, these books get dark. Sometimes very dark. Rose’s plight is heartbreaking, especially when the why of it is revealed. I would, of course, urge readers to start at The Keeper of Lost Causes and work their way up—it’ll provide a much richer experience. That said, you could probably start here, although much of the character nuance might be lost.

This is a superb series, and it just keeps getting better and better. Get to know Carl and his very unusual group of friends and acquaintances. I promise you won’t be disappointed.


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Kristin Centorcelli reviews books at, loves a good mystery, and is a huge fan of boxed wine. You can also follow her at @mybookishways.

Read all posts by Kristin Centorcelli for Criminal Element.


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    Charles starred in prominent Australian films in a career spanning decades and is lauded by many as the grandfather of Indigenous theatre.

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