Written by Jussi Adler-Olsen, translated by Martin Aitken – In this latest book in the Department Q series from Denmark, a gypsy street urchin named Marco stumbles into the path of rampant corporate greed and murder. As an army of contract killers converges on the clever young thief on the streets of Copenhagen, Detective Carl Morck and his eccentric cold case squad must rescue the boy before it’s too late.
The book opens with a desperate chase in deepest Africa, where an honest worker dashes off a damning text on his cell phone about local corruption just before his own murder. The tentacles of this evil deed lead all the way to Copenhagen, where crooked bank officials embezzle funds through ostensibly benign third world development projects, like banana crops for the Baka People in Cameroon. Rene Erickson, the fund’s crooked chief, sends their own brilliant accountant, William Stark, to Cameroon to get the lay of the land. Eventually Erickson learns that Stark may be keeping his own records of the fund’s cooked books, so Stark himself becomes the next on the hit list.
The street-smart Marco belongs to the pickpocketing branch of the same group tasked with Stark’s murder. Marco finds out about it while escaping the group’s prison-like quarters. Zola, the head of the criminal band and Marco’s uncle, is tasked in turn to flush Marco out of the streets and eliminate him, so the chase is on.
When Detective Carl Morck trudges into police headquarters, he is his usual lovable self: full of despair, resigned for the worst, and possibly with some new health issues he’d rather not face. Although his partners in the cold case squad known as Department Q see him at his worst, Carl brings out the best in them. There is Rose, the brilliant and enigmatic goth, who is always two steps ahead of Carl, and Assad, the burly and mysterious Syrian who never lacks for a good camel proverb for every situation.
Their first case in the book is actually quite boring. There is a suspicious death on an exploding boat that may be a case of insurance fraud turned murder, but Rose makes short work of it. When she stumbles upon the traces of a missing persons case, this chance encounter takes the investigation towards William Stark’s employer, and the Kannebaek Bank. Even as Morck connects the dots that will lead them to Marco, the young thief is tailing them, all the while in an effort to enlist their help. Many characters are involved in the drama, including Stark’s family, a couple who aids Marco but then are betrayed by him, and many other denizens of Copenhagen.
During this investigative drama we also learn more about the members of Department Q, especially the disastrous failures of Morck’s romantic life. But at least his de facto family at home is thriving including Hardy, his former police partner who was paralysed in a shooting that still troubles Morck. Work becomes a fresh hell when Morck’s boss suddenly quits and his nemesis Lars gets the chief’s job. Lars’ implied threats to Dept Q’s future are nothing compared to Morck’s realisation that the dependable Assad has mysterious connections to Lars that reach back to the Iraq War.
One of the strengths of the Dept Q series is its tightly crafted and suspenseful plots. Parallel developments unfold within alternating narratives that converge in a riveting way. Adler-Olsen’s page-turners, much like Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series, are complex but still enable you to easily pick up a plot thread. One drawback for newcomers to the series, however, is that they are on their own in figuring out the overall back story of Morck and his crew. The author doesn’t provide a recap for the series’ recurring characters and story arcs, something that would have helped here, but doesn’t detract from the standalone enjoyment of The Marco Effect’s overall storyline.
Adler-Olsen is recommended for fans of Jo Nesbo, who like complicated plots with flawed but humane characters. The Department Q series continues its winning formula of blending comedy and dark villainy, and in The Marco Effect brings a suspenseful final confrontation on the streets of Copenhagen.
We’ve reviewed all the previous Department Q books on our site. Click here.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars