Review of “The Shadow Murders” by Jussi Adler-Olsen

This is the ninth installment of the series featuring Department Q, the cold case division in Copenhagen’s police homicide department. (The series is slated to have ten entries in all.)

The book begins in the fall of 2020, with the police struggling to operate not only under COVID strictures, but with Department Q relocated to a new facility while renovations are going on at their usual offices. The eccentric team of Department Q is headed by Carl Mørck and supported by Hafez el-Assad, Rose Knudsen, and Gordon Taylor. When they are assigned a case, they don’t let go, and their very odd way of looking at things has helped them achieve a remarkable success rate.

Thus Chief of Homicide Marcus Jacobsen asks Department Q to look into an old case that has always bothered him. It had been labeled an accident, but Marcus just wasn’t convinced of that. It involved an explosion at a mechanics’ shop in which all the workers were killed but also the toddler of a woman who was coming to the shop to pick up her car at that very unfortunate moment. Marcus was the one called to the scene. The case resurfaced because the woman recently hanged herself, clutching a photo of her 3-year-old son.

Carl and the team throw themselves into their newest cold case, beginning with the discovery from old photos that a pile of table salt was left by the crime scene. When they start searching for other alleged accidents that show the same odd phenomenon, they see patterns no one caught before, and gradually build a picture of what has been going on since that initial machine shop explosion in 1988. It is a dark and brutal picture, and it gives them the ability to predict when the next “accident” will take place – and they are running out of time.

Meanwhile, in the background, Carl has been told he is being investigated by the narcotics division for the “nail gun case” – a police raid back in 2007 that turned into an ambush by unknown assailants. Carl was barely scratched, but one of his colleagues, Anker Hoyer, died, and his partner Hardy Henningsen was left paralyzed. A large amount of money and cocaine was involved. Carl isn’t concerned, however, since he knows he was innocent and they couldn’t possibly find anything implicating him as corrupt. And yet, as the investigation progresses, Carl finds himself in deep trouble. He can’t act to save himself however, until he makes sure the perpetrator of these salt crimes is stopped.

Evaluation: This book wasn’t as “madcap” as previous books in the series, in part because most of the whole team, for various reasons, gets into serious danger. Assad’s usually humorous trouble with English idioms seemed more forced than usual, and Rose was more subdued. Nevertheless, I am a fan of the series and the characters and am sorry to see there is only one book left to go.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published in the U.S. by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2022

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