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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

(The Keeper of Lost Causes)

Jussi Adler-Olsen

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To purchase The Keeper of Lost Causes

Title: Mercy
Author: Jussi Adler-Olsen
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 489 pages
Original in: Danish
Availability: The Keeper of Lost Causes - US
Mercy - UK
The Keeper of Lost Causes - Canada
Mercy - India
Miséricorde - France
Erbarmen - Deutschland
La donna in gabbia - Italia
La mujer que arañaba las paredes - España
  • Danish title: Kvinden i buret
  • UK title: Mercy
  • US title: The Keeper of Lost Causes
  • Translated by Lisa Hartford (UK) / Tiina Nunnally (US)
  • The first in the Department Q-series

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a few too far-fetched elements, a few too many familiar tropes, but very entertaining crime fiction and a great start to a promising series

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent . 13/5/2011 Barry Forshaw
Publishers Weekly . 6/6/2011 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Mercy sports well-rounded characters (including the obligatory on-the-ropes copper) and a striking premise. The book is about second chances. (...) His real coup in this pitch-black novel is perhaps Mørck's seemingly maladroit assistant Assad, a Muslim utterly lacking in social skills but possessed of astonishing insight. It's the eccentric Assad as much as the over-familiar figure of the burnt-out detective who will have readers hungry for more from Department Q." - Barry Forshaw, The Independent

  • "The pages fly by as the twisty puzzle unfolds. Stieg Larsson fans will be delighted." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Mercy -- published in the US as The Keeper of Lost Causes -- begins with detective Carl Mørck finding himself have hit a very hard wall: after twenty-five years on the force, and ten in homicide, he barely escaped with his life in an ambush that saw one of his colleagues get killed and another paralyzed. His boss notes that: "He was and is an outstanding detective", but he's not much of a team player and not much beloved among his colleagues. With those he was closest to now dead or out of commission, he is even more the odd man out. His colleagues come up with a creative idea to get him out of their hair: parliament is willing to throw some money their way if they set up a new department, to handle "cases deserving special scrutiny", and so they set up Department Q -- consisting entirely and solely of Carl Mørck, who in this way can be eased out (and down into the basement, where they put his offices).
       Mørck takes things in stride -- and sees that he might be able to turn things to his advantage. He's not one to let anyone walk all over him, and if the the police want to keep the extra funding they're now getting they have to keep him halfway happy, so he sets himself up quite nicely down there -- and finagles his own car, and an assistant.
       The assistant he gets stuck with turns out to be the ideal partner-in crime-solving: a Syrian refugee, with the unfortunate (and unlikely) name of Hafez el-Assad. While Assad's job is actually meant to be to clean, make coffee, and run errands, Assad has his own ideas, too -- and some decent police instincts and talents.
       So Adler-Olsen has managed to contrive a set-up that allows for the lone policeman and trusted (and exotic) sidekick to go about solving crime and bringing justice, a neat twist on the usual police procedural -- with obvious longterm crime-series potential. (Both Mørck and Assad also get somewhat involved in the other cases being investigated upstairs, but for the most part they get to do their own thing.)
       The first case they choose from the large stacks of files of open cases is that of Merete Lynggard, a political star in 2002 when she is already the Social Democrats' vice-chairperson and an important member of parliament. The novel moves back and forth between the present-day (2007) investigation of the case, and what happened to Merete between 2002 and now. Fairly early on we learn that she disappeared in 2002 while on a boat on the way to Germany on a trip she was taking with her feeble-minded brother, Uffe -- the one man in her life. The police investigation quickly turned cold: with no real clues it was assumed she had somehow fallen overboard; readers learn, however, that that's not what happened: she was captured and imprisoned, and continues to live in a hellish situation that, year by year gets worse.
       Uffe's condition arose from a terrible car accident their family was involved in -- and that had a similarly devastating effect on another family involved in the crash. That there is some connection between those events from their adolescence and Merete's fate comes as too little of a surprise, but Adler-Olsen does weave a pretty decent tale out of it as Mørck and his sidekick close in to figuring out what happened. (Predictably, failures by one of Mørck's colleagues in the original investigation led to things being overlooked that really shouldn't have been; bloodhound-keen Assad and clever investigator Mørck of course manage to get on the right track (and find long-lost items and connections).
       In part Mercy is a paint-by-the-numbers modern police thriller, complete with a detective who has more than his share of woes (beside his survivor-guilt he's burdened with a nutty wife who won't live with him but also won't divorce him and a bratty teenage son who he has little control over) and a police force that, except for Mørck, is a bit slow and limited. The plot, too, has its share of the convenient-ridiculous (so, for example, Merete's tomb) and Adler-Olsen lays it on too thick at times (a hacker really has to compromise the government computers at one point ?). And, of course, the novel culminates in a hold-your-breath (near-)finale of whether they'll figure everything out in time plus obligatory 'dramatic' showdown. But Adler-Olsen has a decent writing touch and, for the most part, a good sense of character and pacing. Yes, in part Mercy reads like a satire of the police-procedural -- certainly in the role of exotic sidekick Assad and his mysterious past -- but that's okay. It's a good foundation for a series, and overall a great premise; one hopes that as he continues Adler-Olsen will temper some of his wilder enthusiasms (like what Merete is subjected to).
       Far from flawless, but a very entertaining read, and a stand-out in the enormous recent class of Nordic thrillers.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 June 2011

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Mercy: Reviews: Jussi Adler-Olsen: Other books by Jussi Adler-Olsen under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen was born in 1950.

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© 2011-2021 the complete review

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