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by Jussi Adler Olsen and Martin Aitken, read by Graeme Malcom
Penguin Audio, December 2013
Unabridged pages
ISBN: 1611762391

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In THE PURITY OF VENGEANCE, the fourth installment of the Department Q series, Jussi Adler-Olsen has really hit his stride. Carl Mørck, head of Department Q, which investigates cold cases in Copenhagen, has a remarkable coincidence brought to his attention by the sassy and quirky Rose. She has noticed that in the summer of 1987, at least five people were reported missing on the same day, an astounding figure for a small country like Denmark. The disappearances are even more remarkable when the demographics show that these older adults were not among those who can be classified as runaways or suicides.

The investigation eventually centers on Curt Wad, head of the Purity Party. He is a long-time proponent of expelling people not of Danish heritage from the country. He also believes in cutting the poor off welfare rolls and/or sterilizing some women. He is also suspected of having performed abortions without the consent of the patient when the woman was (in his opinion) foreign, indigent, ugly, or unintelligent. Among the missing are his former lawyer, Philip Norvig, who defended him against charges of rape by Nete Hermansen, and Gitte Charles, who worked in an institution in which women were forcibly committed, made to work, and forcibly sterilized as well as subjected to cruel punishment. Rita Neilson, another of those who vanished had been an inmate of the institution and worked as a prostitute after her sterilization and release.

Assad, Carl's trusty and inventive sidekick, is particularly upset by the racism and gynophobia of the Purity Party. As a Syrian refugee, he is all too aware of how some Danes view his presence in "their" country, and his bile rises, too, at any mistreatment of women or signs that a person has been physically hurt. Though his past experiences are only hinted at, they are easy to infer.

While Karl, Assad, and Rose focus on Curt and his followers, a parallel story reveals that the true culprit is Nete, who in the 1950s was raped by Curt Wad and then institutionalized when she tried to prosecute him. An illiterate farm girl, she was unable to defend herself. Abused by the men who impregnated her, Curt, Curt's lawyer, and some of the people associated with her incarceration, in 1987, she took a calculated revenge on her former tormentors.

Though we know that Karl and his team are on the wrong track for most of this procedural, both stories are interesting. Adler-Olsen continues to develop all his characters, including those who appear for small segments, such as Karl's housemates and his ex-wife. On the surface, the plot may seem derivative of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy (GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, etc.). In both, women who have been exploited and hurt by a governmental system and cruel men wreak revenge. However, in THE PURITY OF VENGEANCE, Nete is a middle-aged woman who uses her wits to lure her former tormenters to their doom. This is not an action thriller on the scale of the Larsson trilogy, and, in many ways, it is better for it.

The translation is skilfully executed by Martin Aitken. Though American readers may find some of the British expressions used - such as "by a long chalk" rather than "by a long shot" - a bit foreign on the ears, Aitken has to manage Danish as spoken by a wide array of individuals from different social classes, regional origin, as well as foreign speakers of Danish. Assad, for instance, comically employs malapropisms that have to be fitted into English as do his many Syrian proverbs that usually contain references to camels.

Graeme Malcolm, who also narrated A CONSPIRACY OF FAITH, returns with another magnificent performance. His presentation of the characters is not static. Assad is becoming more fluent as a speaker, Karl sounds less depressed than in previous books, and Rose comes across as someone who has taken charge of her life. Particularly good is Malcolm's performance of Curt Wad, whose voice has the chilly elegance of an educated man, one who is certain that he is right and should be in charge.

In all, this is a terrific cold case procedural. For those who missed the previous volumes, PURITY is easy to follow with just enough back story dropped in to welcome newcomers. This volume is a contender to sweep up any and all mystery-related awards out there.

§ An avid audiophile, Karla Jay is a retired professor of English and Women's & Gender Studies. She is a frequent contributor to this site.

Reviewed by Karla Jay, December 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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