The Purity of Vengeance (Department Q 4) by Jussi Adler-Olsen

NB Also published under the title Guilt

The politics of eugenics…

🙂 🙂 🙂 😐

18885741When Rose spots that amongst the old unsolved cases are four that relate to disappearances that all happened at the same time, Carl Mørck and the team begin an investigation that leads them into the murky world of far-right politics and illegal eugenics. Curt Wad’s organisation is now a recognised political party, the Purity Party, but was previously a secret organisation known as the Cause – the cause being to ensure the purity of the race by carrying out forced abortions and sterilisations of girls deemed unfit to be mothers. And it appears that all the missing people were in some way linked to one of  the victims, Nete Hermansen.

When Adler-Olsen is writing about the background to the crimes and the crimes themselves, his writing is very strong. He creates a convincing picture of the abuse these young girls suffered at the hands of men and women in positions of authority which allowed them to act with impunity. He attempts to lighten the seriousness of the plot by introducing humour into the sections relating to Carl and the investigation. Unfortunately this didn’t work quite as well for me this time round. The running gag is that everyone in the team is hit with a virus that leads to cold symptoms and upset stomachs. I got very tired very quickly of constant descriptions of dripping noses and diarrhoea. And the quirkiness of Rose and Assad begins to jar as their behaviour becomes such that no police department would tolerate from any of its employees.

Carl remains a likeable character, still juggling with his complicated personal life as well as his crazy employees. In fact, here’s one detective who could be forgiven for taking to drink – thankfully he hasn’t though! Despite my reservations about the credibility of their behaviour, Rose and Assad are still enjoyable, and each of their stories is developed a bit more in this outing. Although Wad is an obvious baddie, the other characters are more complex; the victims are by no means straightforward innocents and the villains might be seen to have had extenuating circumstances. However, on the whole I found it hard to sympathise with any of them, even when I was being shown the abuses they had had to endure.

Jussi Adler-Olsen (photo: wikipedia)
Jussi Adler-Olsen
(photo: wikipedia)

The plot in this one is interesting, though it’s not particularly complex. The novel is told in two time periods – the present day investigation and the story of the crimes back in 1987. The reader knows who is responsible for the crimes early on, and the reasons are gradually revealed through the sections that are set in the past. The anti-immigrant policies of the Purity Party allowed the author to show us a different, more serious side to Assad and to hint at parts of his past that will presumably be revealed in later books. Towards the end, I found implausibility was creeping in, and the big reveal was somewhat of an anti-climax – so much of the story had been revealed as the book progressed that there was very little element of surprise. And, as I seem to be saying with nearly every book I read at the moment, at 512 pages it’s far too long; there are lots of little sub-plots that don’t really go anywhere or add anything, and serve only to prevent the plot from building any kind of tension.

Overall, while I still found this an enjoyable read, it didn’t quite live up to my hopes for it. I’ll still be interested enough to stick with the series for at least one more book though to see how the characters develop in the next one. Recommended, with some reservations.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Penguin Group.

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39 thoughts on “The Purity of Vengeance (Department Q 4) by Jussi Adler-Olsen

  1. I could tell by the smileys that it was going to be a sort of ripio review. Very well done, by the way. The professor thinks the lead detective has an interesting last name.

    I would find it interesting to see how the author throws humor into such a situation and plot.

  2. FictionFan – It sounds as thought this one is a good outing for this team even if it’s not completely stellar. I do like the interactions among these folks, and you’re right that Adler-Olsen is really skilled at evoking the past and giving background without overloading. Fine review as ever.

    • Thanks, Margot! Yes, there are loads of positives about it and overall it’s a good read. And I like both Ruth and Assad – but he’s pushing their strange behaviour just a bit too far in this one, I feel.

  3. Since it didn’t work this time (sounds like the subplots detracted from the tension), I’m curious to hear about when you think it does work for a book to reveal the “what” or “who” and then discover the “why” or “how” throughout the rest? Would it have worked without the subplots/length? Are there other flaws (you mentioned implausibility, but sometimes a little of that can be overlooked if the rest of the book receive high marks, yes?) that kept it from being engrossing? I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately since I’m struggling with this issue in my own work.

    • SPOILERS BELOW!!!!

      Very interesting questions Jilanne. For anyone reading this my answer to Jilanne will contain SPOILERS – don’t read on if you intend to read the book…

      I can think of a few ways to do it –

      Have the old crimes leading up to a current crime that hasn’t happened yet with the tension coming from that. The emphasis would be on the psychology and motivation of the crime and criminal. That’s what this book tries to do and the reason it doesn’t work is that the author has put in an unnecessary and implausible twist at the end – namely, that the murderer actually failed in her last murder and was herself murdered by her proposed victim…who then went on to assume the original murderer’s identity and live as her for twenty-odd years. There were too many unbelievabilities in that – that both women were loners with no friends, that no-one ever met the second one masquerading as the first, that she managed to fool banks etc. It would actually have worked much better without that twist.

      Second – make the tension come from the investigation rather than the crime, so concentrating on the psychology of the detectives, police methods, maybe going off on the wrong track and chasing after an innocent person. Again there are aspects of that in this one, but the investigation was loose and sloppy – I felt they missed obvious clues for the purpose of lengthening the story.

      Thirdly – make the aftermath the important thing. I’m thinking of Grisham-esque legal stories, where often the criminal is known and the question is whether they will be convicted – part investigation,
      part court-case.

      And lastly, make the reader care so much about someone – detective in danger, or even the killer, that the tension is in knowing what happens to them. In this book, I felt I should really have cared about the killer because her motive lay in the abuse she had suffered. But unfortunately I found her very unlikeable and not all that much more attractive than her abusers/victims. And the detective hero was in danger at the end…but we know the series continues so not much tension there! Instead, he could have put a young constable in danger – a bit like the people in red shirts in Star Trek – then the reader would genuinely not have known what the outcome would be.

      Yes, implausibility really only bothers me if the rest of the book isn’t up to the mark…or if a sudden entirely unforeseeable and inconsistent twist is bunged in at the end – and that’s what happened here.

      Subplots are tricky – they can add quite a bit if well-done, but in this case there’s a running story-arc which a) means if you’re reading them out of order you don’t really understand what it’s about and b) it’s going on way too long – four books now and no nearer resolution. The other main sub-plot came from nowhere, wasn’t done at all well, was completely implausible and was left unresolved – presumably to be revisited in a future book. I found that very tedious and kept waiting for it to tie in with one of the other plots – but it never did…

      Sorry for the length of the reply, but you made me think…always a dangerous thing! 😀

  4. Please, no apology! Thank you for this thoughtful response! in fact, these details and instructive advice are just what writers need to help improve their own drafts! Do you mind if I share this on the Dogpatch Writers Collective blog?

    • I wouldn’t want to put you off – it was pretty good despite the problems. I think I’m a bit fed up with Scandi writers – I don’t really find I’m in tune with them very often…

      • Have you read any Arnaldur Indridason? I really like his series – I think because it is character based – and you get to know and like the protagonist..and it is not all about the gore…

        Sadly I have a few too many books on my TBR – and a 500 odd page one that has only an average FF rating will have to wait inline. 🙂

        • I don’t think I have. But I think I’m going to try to step back from Nordic writers for a while – male ones at least. For some reason I seem to enjoy the female ones better, which isn’t really the case so much when I read British crime writers.

          Yes, I’m getting very reluctant to read massive books – I think I’ll be waiting to see what other people think first in future…

  5. Interesting review, FictionFan. I wasn’t in love with it either, but I think I’ll check back in on the series occasionally because I want to know Assad’s backstory. And on the issue of length, this one didn’t feel too long to me, and I’m not sure exactly why. I think he writes very round characters, which helps. Anyway, I hope you enjoy your next read more 🙂

    • I think much of it might depend on whether the humour in the book works for you or not. In the last one I enjoyed all the byplay among the team, but in this one I found all the stuff about running to the loo a bit juvenile, I’m afraid. That’s a problem I keep finding with the male Nordic writers – so I guess my sense of humour just isn’t in tune with theirs. And the subplots didn’t work for me this time round either. Those two things together made the book feel very long. But like you I’ll stick with it a bit longer to see what happens to the characters.

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