What it’s About:
Detective Carl Morck of Department Q, Copenhagen’s cold cases division, meets his toughest challenge yet when the dark, troubled past of one of his own team members collides with a sinister unsolved murder.
In a Copenhagen park the body of an elderly woman is discovered. The case bears a striking resemblance to another unsolved homicide investigation from over a decade ago, but the connection between the two victims confounds the police. Across town a group of young women are being hunted. The attacks seem random, but could these brutal acts of violence be related? Detective Carl Morck of Department Q is charged with solving the mystery.
Back at headquarters, Carl and his team are under pressure to deliver results: failure to meet his superiors’ expectations will mean the end of Department Q. Solving the case, however, is not their only concern. After an earlier breakdown, their colleague Rose is still struggling to deal with the reemergence of her past–a past in which a terrible crime may have been committed. It is up to Carl, Assad, and Gordon to uncover the dark and violent truth at the heart of Rose’s childhood before it is too late.
I have long enjoyed Scandinavian mysteries, and I cracked open The Scarred Woman by Jussi Adler-Olsen with unabashed anticipation. Multiple narrators tell this police-procedural tale. Between the changes in narrator and the abrupt segues, I found the start of the book to be jumbled chaos. A few chapters in, the book starts to flow. The myriad storylines are eventually tied together as the story reaches its zenith.
I haven’t read any of Mr. Adler-Olsen’s prior books, so I wasn’t as invested in the members of Copenhagen’s cold case division–Department Q. However, I did find their collegial banter and compassion engaging. They clearly care deeply for their damaged co-worker, Rose, and their tireless efforts to help her were touching. Carl and Assad are pretty funny. They clearly have worked together for a while and know each other well. Mr. Adler-Olsen’s wry humor is evident in their banter. The two bicker like an old, married couple in one scene and share guffaws over mocking the media in another scene. They are the only likeable characters in this book.
The Scarred Woman centers on a group of women who are not obviously tied together. There is the aforementioned Rose, a policewoman who is struggling with demons from her past. It appears that she is “the scarred woman”. There is Anne-Line Svendsen, a misunderstood, burnt-out social worker who rightly judges most of her cases as lazy, entitled Gen X’s who would rather live on the dole than put in an honest day of work. These “model citizens” are depicted as having no education, skills or work ethic, and each feels like they are above the manual labor jobs for which they are qualified. To be fair to Anne-Line, not all her cases are parasites, but Denise, Michelle and Jazmine epitomize the bottom-dwellers of their society. Denise is particularly despicable as she also embodies the self-absorbed righteousness of her family’s historic Nazi beliefs. None of these characters are likeable or sympathetic. There is no reason to feel grief for any of the victims as each one of them is essentially receiving their karmic justice.
The plot is evenly paced. There is story tension, but I didn’t find it gripping or compelling. This was partially due to the unredeemable characters. However, the number of social issues the author felt the need to include in his story also impacts the story tension and pace. The author touches on welfare fraud, entitlement, lack of work ethic, Nazism, emotional abuse, envy and greed, adultery, bureaucracy within police departments, and insufficient support of government agencies. All these themes and messages made the reading like wading through gelatin at times. Overall a decent read, but I didn’t find it overly compelling.