Mercy is another from the burgeoning market of Scandicrime where the shelves are so well stacked that the reader is simply spoilt for choice. With the quality of Scandinavian crime fiction showing no sign of tapering off it will be hard to displace the phalanx of literary entrepreneurs that ply their trade to massaging our minds with their well honed craft. Had the battling prisoners been provided with this one literacy concession during the blanket protest the soul destroying ennui that so lengthened the days would have been much less able to suffocate its host.
Mercy grabbed me from the start. Once inside its covers the warm glow of anticipated discovery soon enveloped my mind. I was onto something.
Copenhagen detective, Carl Mørck carries a serious incentive deficiency around with him, the consequence of a an on duty incident. He is regarded as a nuisance in the police but longevity of service coupled with a near death experience affords him a protected species status. As in all these stories, the cop has his own troubles outside the force as well. He regards himself as one of the finest detectives the Kingdom of Denmark has produced to date. That belief however jars with his lethargy.
Department Q is the new cold case team set up and as quickly banished to the basement of the police station. Mørck is assigned to it as a career move in a career that is not moving. It was a form of recompense to a good detective who had suffered grievously on the job, experienced the officer down moment all cops dread and who blamed himself for the fate of less fortunate colleagues, one of whom he regularly visits in hospital. Few in the Copenhagen police expect much in the way of cases closed.
Merete Lynggaard, one of the country’s brightest politicians, vanished from a boat five years before. The official attitude veered from one position or another: she either committed suicide or was pushed overboard by her brain damaged brother who had maintained a monastic vow of silence ever since. Either way, she was missing, presumed dead, with next to no hope of her fate ever being discovered.
Lynggaard, however, is very much alive but hardly well. For five years she has been held in a pressure chamber dungeon without knowing why she is there or what her captors expect from her. Her early fears that she would be raped failed to materialize. In a situation where the infection from an untreated toothache not only causes the reader to grimace, but could easily seal her fate, all she was certain of was that at the end of her captivity lay only death: her sole choice to make it less horrific than it promised to be.
Using the well worn captive woman theme does not in the slightest diminish the literary creativity of Mercy. It makes it, compelling the reader to urge the author to return to the scene of her confinement so that her fate might be revealed.
Mørck’s little Syrian assistant, Assad, while not a police officer is a brilliant thinker and natural investigator. Mørck wonders how. And there seems nothing more certain than that his story will come out in later books of which Adler-Olsen says Mercy is just the first in a series of ten. Assad reads the cold case files while Mørck plays solitaire and breaks the trance that has proved so debilitating to Mørck’s own drive. Assad stirs his interest in the Lynggaard case. Rivalries and resentments ensure the resulting investigation is not uncomplicated. Mørck is brought into conflict with the initial officer working the case and this adds to the tensions already existing within the force.
The suspense in Mercy is well managed and held, there are no dips. Vengeance is the engine and malevolence the cutting edge. The end simply can’t come quick enough although it is always tempered by trepidation at what fate awaits Merete Lynggaard. Her endurance struggle surely couldn’t be in vain yet experience has taught me that Scandinavian crime writers are not that sentimental, not always given to happy endings, and who create characters that show no mercy.