Review of “The Absent One” by Jussi Adler-Olsen

For those of us who tore through Stieg Larsson and then Jo Nesbo, the desire for another Scandinavian crime novel writer to follow has been acute. I like what I have found so far with Jussi Adler-Olsen.


The Absent One is the second book in Adler-Olsen’s “Department Q” series featuring Copenhagen Deputy Detective Superintendent Carl Mørck. Carl heads a very small subunit in Homicide called Department Q, which was established to take a second look at cold cases. I didn’t read the first book in the series, but that unfortunate oversight on my part did not create a problem for me.

As the story opens, Department Q is given a file detailing some grisly murders from 1987. The crimes committed that are the focus of this investigation are way over the top, as are the outrageously depraved characters who commit them. (We are told right at the beginning who they are and what they have done, so there are no spoilers involved in discussing them.) I almost didn’t keep reading because of the absurdity (or at least, I hope, the absurdity) of these evil characters.

But Detective Mørck was appealing to me immediately, as was his most humorous sidekick Assad and the new department assistant Rose Knudsen.

The focus of the story weaves back and forth between the gang of killers and the members of Department Q. By this process we get to know both groups. I should warn potential readers that one manifestation of the degeneracy of the villains involves cruelty to animals. If you are familiar with Flaubert’s short story, “The Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitalier,” the perpetrators may remind you of Saint Julian (prior to his repentance, that is).

Tension builds as Department Q gets closer to exposing these miscreants, and they in turn get closer to making sure the members of Department Q aren’t able to expose anything or anyone ever again.

Discussion: I have to say I have rarely come across a more unlikely scenario, i.e., a non-dystopian society having in its top echelon a number of very, very sick people who are also rich and powerful movers and shakers. Surely in “real life” someone on their staffs would talk? Even given the greed that seems ubiquitous in this story, a tabloid newspaper or magazine would undoubtedly satisfy someone’s need for a payout. And could you even be so successful if you were so totally psycho? Well, I’m hoping it’s an unrealistic scenario! Nevertheless, it was a fast-paced, entertaining read.

Evaluation: I really enjoyed getting to know Carl Mørck and his colleagues. The humor associated with this motley crew provided a nice break from the violence and tension-filled activities of the bad guys. I’ll be seeking out the next book in the series for sure!

Rating: 3.5/5

Note: Jim also enjoyed this one and like me, is happy to have discovered this series.

Published by Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2012


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16 Responses to Review of “The Absent One” by Jussi Adler-Olsen

  1. Sandy says:

    I’ve got this series on my list of books to read this summer. I did have this particular one on audio and damned if I gave it to someone! I’m an idiot. But I have the third on audio, and I will be hanging onto it. I’m a little disturbed by your description of over the top, but I’ll read the first one and see how it goes!

    • Actually, the over-the-top aspect was a good thing, because otherwise I never could have endured the “activities” of the bad guys. This was so unrealistic I saw it more as a foil for the funny bits when Department Q was the focus. I should also note that the next book (review to come in a week) features a more “normal” killer, if you will.

  2. BermudaOnion says:

    I listened to this one and didn’t love it either. For one, I wasn’t crazy about the narrator – they’ve switched narrators for the next book – and for another the over-the-top stuff was too much for me at times. I think I’ll try the next book and if I don’t love it, give up on the series.

  3. Beth F says:

    I liked this one well enough, but I haven’t felt compelled to read more in the series.

  4. Keishon says:

    While I agree with the Jo Nesbo comparison, I like Nesbo a lot better. But Jussi Adler-Olsen isn’t bad. While I was reading, I was comparing them and seeing where Nesbo’s strengths are compared to Olsen’s and find that Nesbo is better at fleshing out his villains and he provides more info on his subject matter in an informative way that doesn’t feel like an info dump while Olsen let’s his characters research and discuss the subject/themes. I have a gut feeling though that Olsen may be more uneven than Nesbo as well. You should def. try to read the first book, The Keeper of Lost Causes, because I still think it’s his best one to date. Much more compelling story.

    • Yes, I like Nesbo better as well. But one has to have a back up, especially since the 10th Harry Hole will be the last one, and who knows what Nesbo will be up to after that?

      • Keishon says:

        What?! The next Harry Hole will be the last? I didn’t know that. Guess all good things must come to an end. I really hated Headhunters, his standalone novel. Boy this news is…I need to go rock in the corner for a bit and digest this bit of news. :sadface:

  5. Athira says:

    What is it with Scandinavian fiction and terrible crimes? I have been scared to read Larsson even though I’ve had a copy of his first from the trilogy for quite awhile. Maybe some day.

  6. bookingmama says:

    I have been on the fence about this one. I probably should start with the first in the series.

  7. Hadn’t realized this was part of a series. Thanks for the head’s up.

  8. Caite says:

    I like this one too. Not great but quite nice

  9. I don’t think this book is my cup of tea.

  10. stacybuckeye says:

    I still haven’t worked my way through Larsson or Nesbo. I’ve fallen behind and fear I can never recover!

  11. Oh fun! I’m up for a new series too, I miss Wallander.

    Have you read Arnaldur Indridason or Anne Holt?

  12. Soudns like fun. My customers have been loving these books so maybe I should give one a try!

  13. I would love to add this one to my list but darn it, I have to read all of the Nesbo books that are just sitting there patiently waiting for me!

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