Paperback Original: 490 pages
Publication Date: 12/05/2011
At first glance, Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy doesn’t seem that different from your stereotypical Scandi-crime novel. True, it is set in Denmark [which definitely puts it in a distinct minority in the genre], but it also features a maverick detective with a cartload of emotional baggage, lots of gloomy weather and plenty of dour, shifty characters. So imagine my surprise when I quickly found myself becoming engrossed in the book [I read the first half – and it is a big half – in one evening], and realised that this was far more than a by-the-numbers Scandinavian crime novel.
The emotionally encumbered detective in question is Carl Mørck. A man who displays such abundant amounts of cynicism and laziness that it is easy to see why his superiors decided to set up a department just for him and then put that department in the basement – so that they don’t have to listen to him complaining!
However, whilst he’s annoying and curmudgeonly, this is offset by his brilliantly dry and dark sense of humour and the fact that, on occasion, he’s even [whisper it] nice. At one point he goes to the trouble of printing out a floor plan of his basement ‘office’ so that he can work out which wall faces towards Mecca so that his assistant / cleaner / chauffeur, Assad, can pray each day.
And the relationship between Assad and Mørck is definitely one of the highlights of Mercy, mainly because they are such a strange [not always particularly] dynamic duo. In fact the idea of Assad moving from office dogsbody [he got the job as Mørck’s helper after hanging around the police station hoping for a job!] to unofficial detective does rather stretch the reader’s credulity. But, as Assad is really the star of the show – and so different from characters you normally find in a police procedural – I found myself more than forgiving the slightly unbelievable set of Assad’s circumstances.
The central plot of Mercy is deceptively simple, as Mørck and Assad search for a female politician, Merete Lynggaard, who was kidnapped five years before and whom everyone assumes is dead. However, as is revealed to the reader in a parallel plot arc, Meret is still alive and is being held prisoner in an unknown location. This knowledge really adds a feeling of jeopardy and suspense to the proceedings. And Adler-Olsen never resorts to over-the-top gore or sensationalism in his depiction of her plight – which makes it all the more chilling.
And this finely crafted plot never allows itself to be rushed [and in this respect Mercy definitely brings to mind the novels / tomes of Jo Nesbø], which does mean that the pace is more on the glacial side for the first half of the novel – something that might not be to the liking of readers more attuned to the breakneck pace of Anglo-American crime thrillers. But that doesn’t stop the novel from being suspenseful and compelling. I would definitely recommend Mercy for Adler-Olsen’s distinctive and original take on the Scandinavian police procedural.