Prior to my trip to Scandinavia, I wanted to at least be able to say I'd read a book by an author from each country. While my first choice would not have been yet another Scandinavian crime thriller, this novel caught my eye on a trip to the bookstore (technically, I already had a novel by a Danish author that would have qualified but it just didn't quite interest me as much - it too was a mystery). While I can't completely judge the whole series on one book, I actually thought this one added a refreshing bit of humor that has been entirely missing from the other Scandinavian crime novels I've read this year. I rather like the Harry Hole series, and in fact they may be one of the reasons Norway entered into my head as a vacation spot, but they do occasionally get quite dark and dour. I can't say I liked the story or the detective in the Swedish one I read by Henning Mankell though with over a dozen books in the series, I can only assume he improves - either way, the novel was also just dry and dreary. While Carl Morck, the detective on whom this novel centers, has similarities with Harry's type - antisocial, doesn't play well with others, dysfunctional but brilliant - Olsen adds enough supporting characters to lighten things up a bit.
After one of his colleagues is shot and killed, and another paralyzed during a routine investigation, Morck isn't quite himself. He can't figure out why he didn't draw his gun, and possibly prevent everything that happened. As a result, he is even grumpier than usual, more withdrawn and he has lost interest in his cases. At around this same time, a politician begins an initiative to get the police department to focus on cold cases, and Morck's supervisors decide to solve two problems at once by placing Morck in charge of the new department. This way they get rid of a non-productive policeman and make it look like they are taking the initiative seriously. Morck gets an assistant as part of this job, and though the person was supposed to be mostly administrative and for cleaning, he quickly takes more of an interest in their cases than Morck until finally he entices Morck to investigate one case in particular.
Five years ago Merete Lyngaard, a rising politician, disappeared from a ferry and has been presumed dead for five years. However, the novel has been flashing back and forth between Merete and Carl, and the reader knows that she didn't die five years ago - instead she was kidnapped. Of course, since Merete's first chapters are dated five years before Carl's it is hard to tell what her current fate is, but it was nice to read a crime novel where for once there might be a chance of saving the victim. Fortunately, this is the case that Carl and Assad focus in on, and the reader watches as they slowly make progress in the investigation, hopefully in time to make a difference.
Olsen did a good job of laying out clues, and I was able to guess the motivations behind the crime before any of the other characters. I quite enjoyed how he developed his story, and the interactions between Carl and Assad help this one stand out from being yet another detective novel about a brilliant but tortured cop who can't figure out how to help himself. I'm curious to see if this dynamic continues to play out over the rest of the series or if they will slowly get darker. While Harry Hole was never all "rainbows and kittens," he has certainly sunk deeper and deeper over the course of the novels. I hope this isn't the case in this series because sometimes it's nice to not have everything be quite so dark, even in crime literature.