The Hanging Girl
A Department Q novel by Jussi Adler-Olsen
Book review by Jules Brenner
Dutton, released 9/8/15, 512 pp., $28.00
Return to list of books

Adler-Olsen's Department Q series has been selling well enough in Scandinavia and the UK to warrant a following in the U.S. But, I wouldn't think that this is the book that will prove to be up to the task.


The good news about this book is the primary plot line, which I thought had considerable promise.

Department Q is headed up by Det. Insp. Carl Morck, who gets roped into shuffling off to Borholm, Denmark with his team to help solve the case that virtually ruined the life and career of a retired police sergeant. This man, now retired, couldn't stop thinking about the case for 17 years -- ever since he saw the lifeless body of "vivacious" teen Alberte Goldschmid found hanging from a tree in an apparent hit-and-run at high speed.

The tragedy is described in a prologue dated November 20th, 1997. It establishes that, indeed, the victim was hit by a car. But, was it a hit-and-run?

In April of 2014, that sergeant, Christian Habersaat, the only man who thought it was more than that, who had been tracking Morck's recent string of successes in closing bedeviling cold cases, puts in a call to the great solver to plead for his help. Morck's first reaction is to suggest someone else for Habersaat to contact, having no desire to leave his station. As Adler-Olsen puts his protagonist's thoughts:

He... didn't want to get involved with anything connected to an island where the specialty was smoked herring and which was closer to Poland, Sweden and Germany than to Denmark.

Clearly, Morck's answer to Habersaat's appeal amounts to an attempted put off, but as he listens for the caller's reply there is only silence. No reply. The phone goes dead; shortly after which Habersaat is found dead in a publically staged suicide at his retirement celebration -- presumably to put an end to his obsession to find a killer whom every one of his peers in the room with him have always considered non-existent.

What appears to be a subplot involves a peculiar sun cult called the Nature Absorption Academy which seems to come out of nowhere but may have been introduced in an earlier novel in the Department Q series.

This reliance on knowledge of the characters from earlier reading is a major failing of the narrative that follows. The primary protagonist gets lost in interdepartmental relationships and seems to drift off the page often enough to lose a first-time reader's interest in a leading figure who is more boring than captivating, who allows his assistant and others in his unit to walk all over him with rather dismal respect.

Prior books in this series had to be better than this.

Great central characters in police and detective fiction suffer flaws. Flaws make for sympathy and an emotional connection. But Morck, as written here, isn't much for a first-time reader. And, when what should be alarming events develop, there's too much being left to the second rank. The feeling is a bit on the ho-hum side.

The book was first published in Danish in 1014 and translated into English, when Dutton picked it up for wider distribution in 2015. I've no doubt his next book is going to be a gem.

If you don't yet own The Hanging Girl and would like to purchase it (usually at a sizable discount), click here.