Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published February 19th 2014
Nordic Noir has a new hero
It's been 9 years since The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was first unleashed on an unsuspecting world, capturing the imaginations of millions and sparking an unprecedented international phenomenon. Its success was tinged with the sad knowledge that its author, Stieg Larsson, died a year before its release. It was to be the first in a series of ten novels. We at least had the privilege to enjoy the first three of those before Larsson's life was abruptly ended.
Known as the Millennium trilogy: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest all became world-wide best-sellers and adapted into widely seen feature films. Since then Scandinavian Noir, or Nordic Noir, has become a literary sensation. Yet despite the popularity of authors such as Jo Nesbo and Joona Linna, many of us have been left waiting for a Scandi crime series to rival the Millennium trilogy.
Finally that moment seems to have arrived. We have reason to celebrate with Jussi Adler-Olsen's Department Q series.
The first in the series is known in the U.S. as The Keeper of Lost Causes, and in the U.K. as Mercy. Call it what you will, it has all the ingredients to please fans of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Firstly, there's the plucky femme hero fighting for survival against corrupt oppressors. Then there's the atypical crusader for good, ostracised by those around him, but propelled forward to solve mysteries and set the record straight.
Politician Merete Lynggaard may not exactly be the bad-ass action hero that Lisbeth Salander was (you'll have to wait until the second book in the series, The Absent One, before being introduced to the very Salander-like Kimmie). Even so, Lynggaard's resourcefulness and grit are truly impressive. Kidnapped and held hostage by an anonymous group of enemies, she struggles to make sense of her dire situation while fighting for her survival.
Nikolaj Lie Kaas plays Inspector Carl Morck in the upcoming film adaptation, already a massive hit in Scandinavia
Five years later her disappearance is still a mystery and it's up to detective Carl Morck to solve the case. Morck is the body and soul of the story. Still reeling from a near fatal ambush that killed one of his colleagues, while another hangs on for dear life, Morck is exactly the kind of reluctant crime investigator you wouldn't want working on your case. His recent psychological deterioration make him a liability to the police force, but rather than being pensioned out, he's relegated to a basement and given a folder full of long neglected unsolved cases to keep him out of harm's way. Oh, and he has serious authority issues too
Luckily for Morck, although he wouldn't see it that way, he's been provided with Syrian immigrant Hafez El-Assad as an assistant. Assad's attentiveness and eagerness to please make him the perfect man to compensate for all of Morck's glaring inadequacies. Together they are the classic odd-couple, with their clashing of cultures and personalities proving a comedic goldmine.
It's here that Adler-Olsen proves himself to be more than just a Stieg Larsson knock-off. The deft humour and casual observations of cultural differences are something new to the Nordic Noir genre.
Slowly but surely Morck and Assad, despite their contrasting attitudes, penetrate a mystery that seemingly has no clues. Meanwhile the regular flashbacks to five years previous provide the reader with a slowly accumulating exposition of Lynggard's history.
Canny types will see what's coming in advance, but even if the twists aren't always that surprising, the journey is so enjoyable thanks to Adler-Olsen's reassuring storytelling smarts, evenly balancing droll humour, engrossing suspense and entertaining characters.
Last year in Denmark the film adaptation of The Keeper of Lost Causes was the highest grossing movie of the year, beating all the Hollywood blockbusters. We'll see it later this year, but why wait to treat yourself to this expertly realised piece of contemporary fiction?
Nordic Noir is increasingly regarded as a cut above its peers in crime literature, and this could easily be held up as exhibit A in defence of such a claim. Once you start you'll want to devour the whole series.