Review: DISGRACE by Jussi Adler-Olsen

In Adler-Olsen’s second novel to be translated into English we meet a very unsavoury group of criminals who, since they were teenagers together at boarding school, have loved nothing better than fuelling themselves up on illicit drugs then violently attacking someone, sometimes to the point of death. They also hunt and kill animals and indulge in the odd rape for good measure.

In Department Q, the Copenhagen Police’s group responsible for clearing up cold crimes, grumpy and work-shy detective Carl Moerk finds the case of a years-old murder of a brother and sister on his desk. Unsure who has referred the case Moerk and his sidekick, the cleaner turned assistant Assad tentatively start looking into the matter, even though someone confessed to the murder and is serving a prison sentence for it. But Department Q soon learn that there were likely more people involved in the murder, that those people are from the country’s elite families and that they’ve committed far more than one crime.

As with the first book in this series the police characters are very enjoyable to read about. Although naturally lazy Carl is an intelligent policeman and he doesn’t like being dissuaded from a case for political reasons. Assad, an Iranian immigrant, is also clever and happy to do Carl’s grunt work while providing a nice line in homespun philosophy. In this book the men of Department Q are joined by a female colleague in the form of Rose who is meant to be some kind of administrative assistant but is soon just about running the place. She has some of the best, bitingly sarcastic lines in the novel.

The story itself and the focus on the criminal characters did not make for outstanding reading. Introducing the criminals early on is a reasonably common plot device these days and it can work well when the author goes on to delve into why the characters turned into the criminals we meet. Adler-Olsen doesn’t really do that here though, seemingly content with describing (at some length) the almost ludicrous number of violent episodes the gang engage in. There is one person – known as Kimmie – who has broken away from the gang and lives on the streets – who (I imagine) readers are meant to develop a connection with but I’m afraid I really didn’t. I could see that she’d had something of a rough start in life but I could also see that much of the horrid stuff that happened to her was a direct result of her own appalling behaviour and I couldn’t really summon up much energy in caring whether she outwitted her former friends or not. The rest of the gang are evil to the point of caricature, as is the depiction of the lives of ‘the elite’ versus lives of ‘normal people’ so that aspect of the novel didn’t really grab me either.

This book has a little too much ‘what’ (endless details of the various attacks by the gang either from their own points of view or that of their victims) and not enough ‘why’ for me.  I thought the story weak and not nearly suspense-filled enough for its 14+ hours as an audio book (though narrator Stephen Pacey is a delight to listen to as always). In the end there is a solid enough work of crime fiction thanks to the dogged, and amusing performance of the folk of Department Q but, for me, this book is not in the same class as the author’s previous novel.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Other reviews of DISGRACE are at Petrona, Shade Point and Wicked Wonderful Words

I’ve also reviewed the first book in this series, MERCY 

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 3/5
Translator Kyle Semmel
Narrator Stephen Pacey
Publisher Penguin Books [2012]
Length 14 hours 12 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #2 in the Department Q series
Source I bought it
Creative Commons Licence
This work by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

This entry was posted in book review, Denmark, Jussi Adler-Olsen. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Review: DISGRACE by Jussi Adler-Olsen

  1. Maxine says:

    Nice review, and pretty much sums up my opinion of the book. I did not particularly like or identify with Kimmie (hard to sympathise with rich girls & boys who throw their silver spoons in the face of the world so nastily) but I thought the suspense aspects of her story were better than the bits about the rest of the criminals, which I found cartoonish. Like you I enjoyed the Carl/Assad/Rosie dynamics, but thought these aspects were more of a reprise of the first book than being developed here, eg the ex-wife was an unusual and interesting storyline in the first book, & the paralysed friend is also an interesting storyline but it was too drawn out here, with nothing changing in it until the very end….a bit of a “placeholder” as far as the police characters were concerned. On the police procedural side, I thought that the way the evidence of the old crimes was removed or not possible to unearth was stretching it a bit, too.


  2. Sarah says:

    Yes a very nice review Bernadette. I have ‘Mercy’ to read but have put it down and picked it up a few times and it hasn’t quite got going with me yet. I think I have a problem with the premise of the plot. If I manage to finish it I will see if I carry on reading the author. Nice review though.


  3. Margot Kinberg says:

    Bernadette – Great review, Bernadette. I was wondering whether Disgrace would be as good as Mercy was and yours is by no means the only review that suggested it’s not. I’ll probably read it but won’t be in a huge hurry to do so. Shame too because I really did like Mercy.


  4. Kathy D. says:

    Yes, I’m disappointed too, having liked Mercy. I guess I’ll read Disgrace if my library gets it, but certainly won’t rush to find it or read it.


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