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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

(The Absent One)

Jussi Adler-Olsen

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To purchase The Absent One

Title: Disgrace
Author: Jussi Adler-Olsen
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 402 pages
Original in: Danish
Availability: The Absent One - US
Disgrace - UK
The Absent One - Canada
Disgrace - India
Profanation - France
Schändung - Deutschland
Battuta di caccia - Italia
Los chicos que cayeron en la trampa - España
  • Danish title: Fasandræberne
  • UK title: Disgrace
  • US title: The Absent One
  • Translated by K.E.Semmel
  • The second in the Department Q-series

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Our Assessment:

B : the pathological criminals a bit much to take, but otherwise solid

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 7/10/2012 Marilyn Stasio
Politiken . 28/5/2008 Thomas Harder
Publishers Weekly . 18/6/2012 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Adler-Olsen may lack Larsson’s political passion, but he brings great inventiveness to descriptions of the techniques of torture, which keeps the sadistic brutality from becoming repetitive or even (God help us) dull." - Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Adler-Olsen er en dygtig plotkonstruktør, men også en stærk skildrer af personer, steder og miljøer." - Thomas Harder, Politiken

  • "An insightful look at ruthless people seduced by violence and hiding behind their wealth fuels the surprise-filled plot." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Disgrace -- published in the US as The Absent One (because agreeing on one English-language title is apparently just too hard) -- is the second in Adler-Olsen's 'Department Q' series, which began very promisingly with Mercy (US title: The Keeper of Lost Causes). Department Q handles open and very cold old cases, but it has limited resources at its disposal (and is quartered in the basement at police headquarters). It's led by Carl Mørck, and he has a trusty sidekick, Syrian refugee Assad (who is not officially a policeman, but certainly behaves as if he were); at the beginning of Disgrace they get another hand, as Rose Knudsen is assigned to help out; Mørck isn't pleased by her being foisted on him, but the woman who: "received top marks at the police academy, but she failed the driver's test" proves to be quite resourceful and helpful.
       Returning to the job, Assad tells Mørck of an interesting file that has come their way -- though they aren't quite sure how. It's not your typical cold case -- for one, it doesn't seem very cold: someone has already confessed and been tried and convicted of the brutal killings of two young people in 1987. But at the time some other kids from a boarding school were also suspects -- the children of prominent and influential men, who have themselves now become incredibly successful. And it's the one from their boarding-school group that came from a humble background (but who has conveniently made a killing on the stock market during his incarceration) that confessed and is in jail.
       One other member of the group is dead, and the one girl, Kirsten-Marie ('Kimmie') Lassen has more or less vanished from sight. The other three are among the leaders of modern Danish society; among their favorite pastimes is hunting -- they're 'the pheasant killers' (as the original Danish title of the novel has it, and as one character observes: "what else would you call people like that ?").
       Disgrace isn't a whodunit: pretty much everything except for some of the details are revealed early on. The boarding school kids were all in on the original crime together -- and they committed other brutal acts as well (what kind, and how brutal is not immediately clear, but, yeah, they were pretty brutal). Eventually, however, Kimmie split off from the group and went into hiding -- and the surviving boys, now men, are still very damned scared of her, because she could bring them all down -- or she could try to attack them herself. One can't take it and chooses the safety of jail, admitting to that one crime, but the others -- with great resources available to them -- know they have to silence Kimmie. Meaning also that they can't let the police get her, either; she knows too much. And so, Disgrace is a triple cat-and-mouse game, Mørck looking for Kimmie as well as trying to figure out how he can bring the other three to justice, while the three try to silence Kimmie before she can rat them out -- or get them, since Kimmie wants to exact revenge (for exactly what is also only eventually made completely clear) and tries to hunt them down in turn.
       It's a decent set up, and fairly well done. The narrative moves back and forth between Kimmie -- who is both on the run and on the chase --, Mørck's attempts at investigation (which are also being undermined by the well-connected suspects' influence, which for a while leads him to be ordered to drop the case), as well as the three well-to-do killers, who are getting more nervous and more desperate as time goes by.
       The three always enjoyed the hunt, and they also channel that into more traditional, socially acceptable hunting. Among the games they play is to have their bird-hunts, but also allow two from their party -- the select of Danish society, who clamor to be part of these games -- to go after a select (and often illegal) prey each time. Needless to say (but disappointingly), there's a big hunt at the end of the book, where everything comes to a head.
       Kimmie's life on the streets is an entertaining contrast to the well-heeled life of the other suspects, and Mørck's investigation, slowly peeling back the layers of depravity and criminality this group was responsible for, are well done and quite entertaining. The one big problem with the book is that all the criminals are truly pathological (including Kimmie, who seems to have gone completely off the rails -- but then wasn't very much on them back in her youth, either, given her role in the group's antics). The sheer brutality of the crimes is both unpleasant -- and also rather unrealistic (that they could undiscovered for so long). And while the first crime readers learn about is bad enough, the later ones prove even worse, and worse -- culminating in what happened to Kimmie and led to her break-up with the group (and her complete break-down). It's a bit hard to reconcile the sheer evil with the perpetrators; it's also hard to believe they have been able to keep these two parts of their lives separate for so long. (In the case of a single person it might be plausible, but all of them ?)
       Adler-Olsen's approach -- of revealing who is responsible from the beginning (if not quite the extent of their criminality) -- works quite well here, but it is rather a lot of evil he tries to deal with here. Attempts at comic and other relief -- Mørck's on-going jousting with new hire Rose, his domestic life, his attempts at romantic life (which includes nodding off into his food on one date ...), among other things -- too often feel a bit forced, too. It's a reasonably solid thriller, but the pieces it's assembled from are a bit awkward, especially the crime(s) that, à la Stieg Larsson, have to top everything in terms of absolute depravity. He also tries to have Kimmie fill a few too many roles -- from teenage seductress to psychopath to tragic heroine.
       Disgrace is an okay thriller, but doesn't live up to the promise of Mercy. Here's hoping for more (and less) in episode three.

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 June 2012

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Disgrace (The Absent One): Reviews: Jussi Adler-Olsen: Other books by Jussi Adler-Olsen under review:
  • Mercy (US title: The Keeper of Lost Causes)
  • Redemption (US title: A Conspiracy of Faith)
Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen was born in 1950.

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