One crime fiction leads to another in Danish encounter

Ian Rankin of Scotland is one of crime fiction’s pre-eminent writers. His new book, Standing in Another Man’s Grave, finds his signature detective John Rebus uncomfortably in retirement and characteristically ruffling feathers and muscling his way into cold-case investigations at his former police precinct.

He’s seen as an old-timer who follows hunches, a method now obsolete in the techno world of police detecting. Along with a former colleague, Siobhan Clarke, Rebus intuits his way into a string of murders dating from the present back a dozen years. Standing in Another Man’s Grave is Rankin at his best, and that’s mighty good, and this book shouldn’t be missed.

I was looking forward to reviewing Rankin today until last week when I received a book from an obscure imprint in the Penguin Group. The Keeper of Lost Causes by Dutchman Jussi Adler-Olsen came to my attention by serendipity. I was waiting to cross Main Avenue to have lunch and read Rankin’s book at Nini’s Taqueria when a woman pointed to my book and said in halting English that she, too, reads mysteries and asked me if I had ever read Dutch writers. These were Danish tourists, and before the traffic light would permit me to cross the street, she had written the name Jussi Adler-Olsen on her Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory napkin, saying “He’s the best of Scandinavian writers,” then patted me on the shoulder, nodded knowingly and walked up Main with her husband gesticulating apologetically for his wife’s bumptiousness.

I’m not one for ignoring a kismet moment, and before the day was over, I had written for Adler-Olsen’s newest book. I finished reading The Keeper of Lost Causes last night at 2 a.m.; I began reading it at breakfast. I couldn’t put it down – the narrative clock kept ticking in my head as the story built in minute increments toward a conclusion I had never expected.

Merette Lynggaard was a bright light in the Dutch parliament before she disappeared five years ago on a ferryboat on her way with her brain-damaged younger brother for a long weekend in Berlin. Her disappearance was chalked up to falling overboard; her brother was of no help in explaining the circumstances; the episode went into the cold-case files after two weeks.

Carl Mørck was nearing the end of his tumultuous career as one of Copenhagen’s best criminal investigators before a bullet nearly killed him and destroyed the lives of his two partners. Carl was shuffled off to the basement of headquarters to while away his remaining years investigating hopeless cases and lost causes. He’s assigned a babbling Islamic immigrant to keep his dank office clean and drive for him. The first hopeless cause Carl takes on is the disappearance of Merette Lynggaard, now five years cold but not forgotten. Carl’s lethargy is no match for his fanatical sidekick Assad, and an investigation that should have been lazy and fruitless turns in to a roller coaster ride.

The Keeper of Lost Causes is a book to compare with all others. Jeff Mannix is a local journalist and author.

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