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The Hanging Girl: A Department Q Novel


The Hanging Girl: A Department Q Novel

At some point, I believe that the Department Q novels will be discovered by a television producer. I hope that it’s the right one. Jussi Adler-Olsen’s series about a somewhat quirky and unusual Danish police cold-case team combines elements of the Steed-Peel era of “The Avengers” (not the one with Thor and Iron Man) and the character chemistry of “The X-Files” that stays with the reader from book to book. While THE HANGING GIRL, the sixth installment of the series to be published in the United States (and a tip of the pork pie to translator William Frost for that), isn’t quite up to the others in the series, it’s still well worth your valuable reading time.

Let’s get the one weakness of THE HANGING GIRL out of the way: it’s a bit overly long, certainly more so than it needs to be. Fortunately the characters, particularly those who make up the fabulously successful Department Q, are all a treat to behold. Carl Mørck heads up the team of understated misfits, who by turns are less and greater than the sum of their parts. Carl is a curmudgeon, one who will remind you of the older uncle whose gastrointestinal problems manifest themselves at inappropriate times during holiday gatherings and who considers such to be anyone or everyone else’s fault. He is aided by the enigmatic Rose, who possesses a talent for organization that is uncanny and invaluable, and Assad, the constantly surprising and encyclopedic scribe who mixes similes and metaphors but at any given moment is the smartest person in the room. What was supposed to be the gang that couldn’t think straight and was consigned to a basement headquarters has become unexpectedly successful and in demand.

"Don’t let its length and occasional narrative wanderings deter you. Fans of this worthy genre of psychological fiction should treat it as a must-read."

At the beginning of THE HANGING GIRL, the eternally grouchy Carl fields a call from Sergeant Christian Habersaat, a police investigator who reveals an obsession with a case that has haunted him for close to two decades. Carl dismisses the officer with tragic results. Rose insists on following up on the matter, which concerns a young woman who was the apparent victim of a hit-and-run driver. There were no witnesses to the incident; it was Habersaat himself who happened upon the grim scene at some point after the girl’s death, finding her hanging upside down from a tree. Carl, Rose and Assad make the journey to the rural area, with Carl intending to make a cursory review of the case and then return to home base. He is drawn in, though somewhat reluctantly, and slowly comes to realize that what had been treated as an accidental death was in fact a murder.

Meanwhile, a subplot is created via a separate narration, involving a quasi-guru running a self-help/religious institute and a woman who has become obsessed with him. The focus is on the woman, and while the secondary storyline at first seems to have absolutely nothing to do with the Department Q case, it eventually becomes clear that the two plots have intersected in the past and are about to do so again. Even when it seems obvious as to what has happened and what will happen, in terms of who will do what and to whom, Adler-Olsen throws in a surprise or three, making the destination the equal of the journey to the shock of all, particularly the reader.

This has been a very good month for Nordic noir, given the publication of a new installment in a much better-known series, and it would be a shame if THE HANGING GIRL got lost in the mix. Don’t let its length and occasional narrative wanderings deter you. Fans of this worthy genre of psychological fiction should treat it as a must-read.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 11, 2015

The Hanging Girl: A Department Q Novel
by Jussi Adler-Olsen