Published: September 8, 2015
In the middle of his usual hard-won morning nap in the basement of police headquarters, Carl Mørck, head of Department Q, receives a call from a colleague working on the Danish island of Bornholm. Carl is dismissive when he realizes that a new case is being foisted on him, but a few hours later, he receives some shocking news that leaves his headstrong assistant Rose more furious than usual. Carl has no choice but to lead Department Q into the tragic cold case of a vivacious seventeen-year-old girl who vanished from school, only to be found dead hanging high up in a tree. The investigation will take them from the remote island of Bornholm to a strange sun worshipping cult, where Carl, Assad, Rose, and newcomer Gordon attempt to stop a string of new murders and a skilled manipulator who refuses to let anything—or anyone—get in the way.
This is by far my least favorite book of the Department Q series and I hoping it’s just a problem with the translation because I really do enjoy this series.
Presumably Carl Mørck, head of the Q Department, is the protagonist, but he comes across as lazy and disagreeable. Perhaps that is how he is supposed to be portrayed, but there is very little reason to cheer for him. Adler-Olsen’s other characters have little, if any, dimension; visualizing them is difficult, (not usual for this series).
There is some description given of Mørck’s assistants Assad and Rose and she has some job responsibilities with her computer knowledge and organizational skills. Assad appears to be the comic sidekick who can’t seem to get the words right: strawstack instead of haystack. Considering that both of these characters have appeared in previous Department Q stories, it must be assumed that the author’s fans are already familiar with them and details are not needed. The other characters in the story all seem to be angry or manipulative—it’s hard to find anyone likable.
The premise of the story—a cold case file that has driven a police officer to suicide, but not until he has left clues for Mørck and his assistants to find in order to keep the cold case alive—would be workable if the story followed that line with fewer diversions.
The Department Q gathering of the mountain of information from the deceased police officer’s home is a little hard to fathom. With the information described as boxes and boxes of papers, magazines, books, letters, photos, etc., all neatly organized by Rose in an extremely short time span, it’s hard to believe that any organization could suddenly reveal the small clues and evidence needed to solve this crime.
Initially, the story does little to encourage the reader to continue listening. The storyline jumps forward and backward in time, and it almost seems that at the beginning of the story there is another storyline with no connection. This is a side story that starts at an earlier time and involves an alternative religious (cult) group. The scenes around this group are more interesting than those about the cold case file, and one must trudge through half of the book before the two issues begin to knit together in the story.
Although Adler-Olsen does a satisfactory job of tying up loose ends, the whole purpose of the story remains elusive. It’s hard to understand why a policeman would gather this large amount of information and leave it behind for others to explore, when the reality is that the police officer already knew the sad answer.
One interesting turn that is difficult to understand is what the author does with Mørck’s assistant Rose at the end of the book. She has appeared in previous Department Q books, and if his purpose was to write her out of the series, presumably he has succeeded, and she may not be returning in any subsequent Q Department tales. Of course, fiction being what it is, she might come around again. . . . and I hope she does, because I don’t know what Carl and Assad will do without her.
Considering Adler-Olsen is a popular crime writer in Denmark one can only hope that with The Hanging Girl the translation to English is faulty, and in his own language he has painted a much more interesting and vivid picture.