Readers who enjoyed Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen's first mystery to be translated into English, The Keeper of Lost Causes (published in the UK as Mercy), will probably enjoy this second unusual novel as much as the first. This mystery is somewhat different in its focus, however, spending less time on establishing the characters of out-of-favor Detective Carl Morck and his "assistant" Assad, hired originally as a custodian but with a remarkable talent for police investigation. Though little new or dramatic information is learned here about the intriguing personal lives of Morck and Assad (from an unnamed country in the Middle East), their characters deepen as the author shows them interacting with each other. Morck is also assigned a new employee, this one a secretary on "mile-high heels." All three characters work together when they decide to investigate a twenty-year-old case file that has mysteriously appeared on Morck's desk.
The case concerns a group of friends whose relationship goes back to prep school. Most have become immensely successful in the two decades since then. One is the owner of sixteen hospitals, one is an internationally recognized designer, one is a stock market analyst, and one, now deceased, has been a shipping magnate. Yet another, now in jail for confessing to a serious crime, has amassed a stock portfolio of incredible value. Rumors have swirled about this group from the time they were in school, since beatings, mayhem, and disappearances seemed to follow in their wake, but no one has ever been able to pin anything specific on any of them, and most have now become leaders of the community. The only female member of this group disappeared long ago.
That female, known as Kimmie, is now a street person, a violent woman with serious mental illness who spends her life trying to avoid people. Still angry about her treatment by members of the group more than twenty years ago, Kimmie, spurred on by her demons, has started to attack some of them, and when she is eventually spotted in Copenhagen, the group hires a private detective to find and eliminate the threat she represents to them all. Realizing that she is being followed, she decides she will take down those involved, and she amasses an arsenal which includes grenades, automatic weapons, and silencers. With no conscience, she is clearly the "absent one," but the author makes her a remarkably sympathetic character despite her sadistic behavior, and few readers will fail to respond to her pathetic neediness.
With half a dozen members of the gang, and Morck, Assad, Rose, and numerous police all involved in the story, what may seem like a fairly simple, straightforward plot becomes, instead, an intricate study of characters and interactions. The life of each member of the gang is described in detail from school to adulthood, adding to the tension and preventing them from becoming stereotypes. As the author slowly reveals the many and varied crimes they have all committed, including those against Kimmie, the novel becomes filled with dark psychological twists and turns. The novel is enhanced by the fact that Morck, Assad, and Rose are also unique characters who do not respond in traditional ways, and moments of humor accompany much of the horror. (Note: This novel was published in the UK as Disgrace.)