I am a longtime fan of Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Department Q novels. Department Q includes a small cast of clever out-of-the box thinking misfits who handle cold cases that are typically notorious, often gruesome and always beyond the detection and solving capabilities of ordinary officers. The Shadow Murders opens with a scene in which a woman survives a lightening strike that killed the other people in her group and a foreshadowing of madness, And then, the team begins to focus on what seems to be a non-case. A woman has committed suicide and the head of homicide, Marcus Jacobson remembers her as the mother of a three year old boy who died in an explosion in 1988. He never forgot the case, because he was nearby when the automobile repair garage blew up and the child’s stroller was blown from his mother’s hands. Marcus never quite believed it was not an intentional act as opposed to an accident in an area with a lot of flammable chemicals. And so, he asks Carl, head of Department Q to start looking at the old files and something strange becomes apparent in a crime scene photograph..
From this seemingly minor detail, the team begins reviewing and researching accidents or homicides that have a similar detail. We are also introduced to a strange cadre of people with a somewhat violent propensity for monitoring and correcting the behavior of citizens of common but annoying rudeness but with, a group whose darker purpose unfolds slowly through the novel.
As the title suggests, we learn about murders that have occurred over a period of time that might be related, the victims interesting and unlikeable characters. The theme for the next Department Q novel is established as well, and will focus on the old nail gun case that plays a recurring role in other books in the series. This is a well-plotted and at times nail biter story with, as is typical of Adler-Olsen psychological “action” style. And, as usual, what I like the most are the members of Department Q, Carl, Rose, Gordon, and Assad, each with a back story with several of them featured in other novels. This one adds some information on Gordon, but it is more of a team focused piece.
A Department Q novel is never less than four stars. This one is a five star for me. The intertwining of a variety of individuals connected to the victims, the weird cult-like group of people, the madness of their leader and the cleverness of Department Q was at its best in this one. As usual, there is a lot of humor, like when Rose is consigned to put out national bulletins seeking information and shoots dagger eyes at Carl because she will have to handle all the responses, more of a clerical duty smacking of her prior position in Department Q. Assad’s family is featured, roiling from their escape from a horror story in Iraq and adjustment to Denmark.
I could not go into as much detail as I’d like due to spoiler. potential but highly highly recommend this whole series, TO BE READ IN ORDER unless you are not one for rather gruesome crime scenes or crimes, a hallmark of Adler-Olsen. (They can be read as stand-alone but they are so much better when you know the players and follow their development chronologically). The Shadow Murders is arguably tamer than some, but that says more about the others being more vividly terrible than this one, not to detract from the tension that Adler-Olsen brings here to his incredibly competent work in the psychological thriller genre. Looking forward to the tenth entry, especially since we already know its general focus.