A Conspiracy of Faith by Jussi Adler-Olsen

I am excited! I will not only get to meet Jussi Adler-Olsen when he makes one of four stops on his U.S. tour at Once Upon a Crime in Minneapolis tomorrow evening (June 1st at 7:00 pm, to be precise), I get to interview him. Hope to report on that here very soon. Meanwhile, here is a review of his third book in the Department Q series. In Danish the title is Flaskepost fra P; in the UK it will be titled Redemption. But here in the U.S. (perhaps appropriately) religion and conspiracy take the lead.

A review of
A Conspiracy of Faith by Jussi Adler-Olsen
translated by Marin Aitkin
Dutton, May 2013

The prologue of this book is ominous, reminiscent of the woman held captive in the opening pages of The Keeper of Lost Causes. In this case, two boys are chained and gagged in a boat house, terrified and desperate. The older of the two struggles to get his bound hands on a Conspiracy of Faithglass bottle, a splinter of wood, and a bit of paper. Through sheer determination, he manages to write a message written in his own blood rolled up and into the bottle, With the bottle stoppered with a wad of tar, he struggles to get it through a crack in the wooden wall of the boathouse in which they are held chained up before their captor reappears.

And then, as happens with prologues, we’re made to wait. Carl Mørck is annoyed that the office he and his assistant Assad occupy in the basement of police headquarters has to be rid of asbestos, displacing them from their hiding place. Assad has discovered a common thread among a string of arson cases. Their colleague Rose departs for mysterious reasons, but sends her Flaskepost fra Peccentric sister Yrsa to fill in. A young mother is uneasy about her relationship with her controlling, violent husband. All the while, in Scotland, a bottle with a message curled up inside sits on the windowsill of a police station in Scotland, the letters growing faint, only discovered when a computer expert tales a fancy to the bit of glass. Trying to get the paper out, she breaks the bottle and realizes that the nearly unreadable words seem to have been written in blood – and the only word she can clearly make out is HJAELP.

As Department Q tries to decode the decayed message, solve a series of arsons, and avoid Heath and Safety officers, a man goes about his business, seeking out families with deep non-conformist religious beliefs, weaseling his way into their good graces, then kidnapping their children for ransom – and to cause extraordinary anguish.

This all sounds very grim, and in many ways it is. In addition to children at risk and parents Redemptionexperiencing their worst nightmare, there is the plight of a woman trapped in a violent relationship, terrified about what will come next. But as anyone who has read the first book in the series may guess, it’s full of humor and kindness as well. Carl Mørck is a grumpy yet dedicated slacker. Assad is an immigrant whose broken Danish and eagerness to please conceals hidden depths. Yrsa is both bizarre and brilliant.  And bit by bit, the clues come together.

As in Keeper of Lost Causes, the story involves a crime in the past and a desperate need to solve it in the present. It’s a fun, thrilling reading experience that has both enough depth to round out the characters as well as a generosity of spirit that infuses the pages and matches the grimness with hope and an abiding faith in humanity.

For those in the Minneapolis area, perhaps I’ll see you. For those who aren’t . . . I’m sorry you don’t live near this terrific bookstore. It’s a little bit of heaven for mystery readers.

Once Upon a Crime

Read Mary Ann Grossman’s coverage of the book and the event in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. 

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