You're in a concrete cell with no control over your own existence - would you beg your captor for mercy?
We do love a good thriller; it doesn’t necessarily have to have twists and turns galore, or even a schmaltzy ending. We’re not fussy about whether it has scintillating repartees, cracking one-liners or monosyllabic dialogue – as long as our protagonist is lethally sharp-witted, ill-tempered and socially inadequate: we’re in heaven. With the amount of high praise and quality awards being lavished on new Danish author, Jussi Adler-Olsen for his book Mercy, we were eager to try him on for size and unlike another huge Nordic success (we won’t name names), we were instantly smitten.
Carl Mørck’s a sour-puss – a misogynistic sour-puss, no less. Finding himself tethered to an estranged ex-wife, who refuses to give him a divorce; a belligerent and inconsiderate stepson scrounging off his ‘good nature’; one dead team member, the other hospitalised and mostly paralysed and a scar on his own head serving as a perpetual reminder of that terrible day when his life fell apart – Mørck could be forgiven for being less than a bundle of joy. His return to work is not received warmly, however; higher-ups don’t approve of his methods or personality and want him quietly moved out of the way. A new department aimed at reviewing cold cases seems the perfect hole to stuff him into and ‘Department Q’ is born. Mørck may have been relinquished to the dank and inhospitable innards of the building (the basement), but he is determined not to be walked over, despite having no intention of actually doing any work. It is the arrival of the demur, Assad, his cleaner, coffee-maker, chauffeur and all-round assistant that forces Mørck to take on his first case. And it’s an old one. One that he’s convinced will either remain unsolved or unearth a corpse.
In 2002, Merete Lynggaard is a rising star in the world of Danish politics. She is also inscrutable: having no friends, declining attempted courtships and positively shunning the formation of any personal relationship whatsoever; she is an enigma to her colleagues. Her private life is consumed with the oddly secretive task of caring for her handicapped younger brother; an impressively sized man who hasn’t spoken since the fatal car accident that took both parents from the siblings. At the grand old age of 32, Merete has just begun to consider that life might have more to offer her: a husband, maybe some children… But after a moment of darkness, that future vanishes; abducted in broad daylight off a ferry boat. Five years on, Merete is fighting for her life, a fight that is due to end one way or another on May 15th. No one is looking for her; no one thinks there’s anything but a dead body to find. Merete’s determination to survive has been tested to the limits of the human body; but she won’t give them the satisfaction of deciding when or how she will die – that same determination has led her to plan her own death, on her own terms.
Adler-Olsen’s narrative is riveting to the exclusion of everything else. Once you settle down in your seat, there is no getting off this ride until he is done with you. Wrung out, shuddering slightly and with a lasting sense of the mercilessness of a mind that is capable of shutting another human being off so completely from the world; Mercy is an high impact, memorable debut from an chillingly good author.
We interview C J Daugherty about Night School
- 10 January 2012