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The Scarred Woman by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Published in Denmark in 2016; published in translation by Dutton on September 19, 2017

The Scarred Woman is an eventful novel. I would recommend reading others in the series first because, while the main plot stands on its own, a compelling subplot will make more sense to readers who are familiar with the earlier novels.

The main story involves three young women who are receiving public benefits. They aren’t particularly interested in working, and at least one of them is dependent on the kindness of men … any men she can find who will fund her lifestyle. A social worker named Anne-Line is fed up with attractive young women who tell her lies in order to extend their benefits. Anne-Line is dying of cancer and, having little to lose, decides to mete out her own form of harsh justice.

One of the young women, Denise, has a disagreeable grandmother who has been reluctantly funding Denise’s mother and Denise. The grandmother dies, which spins off another murder investigation that involves additional victims. Then the three young women decide to commit their own crime, which leads to even more murders.

The police investigators in Copenhagen have their hands full. None of that should concern Carl Mørk and his Department Q colleagues, since their task is to investigate cold cases. But the spin-off story involving Denise’s grandmother ties into a cold case, and Carl always enjoys stepping on toes by becoming involved in current murder investigations.

The subplot involves Rose from Department Q. Past novels have suggested that Rose’s mental health is precarious. In The Scarred Woman, Rose is having serious psychological problems rooted in her past. Carl, Assad, and Gordon take a break from investigating other crimes to investigate Rose’s past, unearthing still more crimes that need to be solved.

The plot is complex but it never becomes confusing. Rose is the continuing character who gets the most attention in The Scarred Woman, and Jussi Adler-Olsen provides significant new insights into her character. Carl and Assad are always entertaining, and while this novel does nothing to reveal Assad’s mysterious past, it does allow him to assert himself when Carl gets on his nerve by correcting his Danish. In past novels, Assad has almost been used as comic relief, but this novel is darker than the others, and Assad’s reaction fits that tone. At the same time, Adler-Olsen lets the reader see Assad’s tender side in a key scene involving Rose.

I always look forward to reading novels in the Department Q series. The Scarred Woman is one of the best.


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