The price of revenge
Genetic purity, oppressed women and far left politics all come together in this complex Nordic noir thriller.
THEY say that revenge is a dish best served cold. Strike at your enemy when he least expects it, for most satisfaction. Even if you have to wait decades.
In Jussi Adler-Olsen’s latest crime noir novel The Purity Of Vengeance, an abused woman finally has the chance to get her revenge on everyone who’s ever wronged her. But to what lengths can she go for revenge before she ultimately destroys herself? And what happens when the people you seek to destroy are no longer the people you thought they were?
What results is a rollicking novel of hidden agendas and sinister plans, packed to the brim with twists and surprises. A tightly-plotted combination of real life Danish history and fine story-telling skills, Adler-Olsen’s novel definitely entertains.
Adler-Olsen is popularly known as Denmark’s #1 crime writer, and is a New York Times bestselling author. His books routinely top the bestseller lists in Europe, and he is the winner of many prestigious crime-writing awards, such as the Glass Key Award, The Sealed Room Award, and the Barry Award for Best Novel. In 2013, he was nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
The Purity Of Vengeance is the fourth book in his bestselling Department Q series, after The Keeper Of Lost Causes, The Absent One and A Conspiracy Of Faith. Originally written in Danish, his latest novel was translated into English by Martin Aiken.
Vengence continues the adventures of Detective Carl Morck, who heads Department Q, tasked to deal with baffling cold cases. Morck and his two colourful assistants, Rose and Assad, are tasked with the case of Rita Nielsen, a brothel owner who went missing in the 1980s.
A seemingly straightforward case. But after some digging, Rose and Assad discover that numerous other people all went missing the same time Rita did. Their investigations soon lead them into the path of Nete Hermansen, a vulnerable young woman who was subjected to a terrifying experience on the island of Sprogo in her youth.
Department Q discovers that back in the 1980s, Nete hatched a cunning scheme to avenge her tormentors. But even more terrifying than her plans for vengeance is the involvement of Dr Curt Wad, a charismatic surgeon once part of a movement to sterilise wayward girls in 1950s Denmark.
Wad is now the leader of the Purity Party, a controversial fascist political party championing causes such as the reduction of the number of immigrants and other “unfit” people in the country. And he will stop at nothing to ensure his past does not come back to haunt him.
The Purity Of Vengeance takes place over several time periods, with most of the narrative split between Nete’s vengeance in the 1980s, and Carl’s investigation in 2010. Much of the novel, particularly the parts involving Sprogo, are based on real Danish history.
The strength of Adler-Olsen’s novel is its impressive characters. Tough no-nonsense Carl is fascinating to read about, but the true star of the novel is his assistant Assad, an Arab immigrant willing to do anything for the cause of justice. Not only does he provide much of the story’s most suspenseful moments, his eager attempts at learning Danish also provide humour.
Nete’s backstory is also highly absorbing, and could probably fill a novel on its own. While the tragic circumstances that befall her are interesting, it is her feisty spirit and determination that truly compels. Indeed, it is hard not to root for her, even as she does some highly criminal things in her pursuit of revenge.
Crime thrillers are only as good as their villains, and The Purity Of Vengeance definitely delivers. Wad is despicable to the highest degree, an aged politician blinded by hate and a Nazi-like obsession for genetic purity. The most frightening thing about him, however, is how real he feels. A flesh-and-blood version of Wad would easily fit into this modern world in which politicians trumpet divisive values and religions lean towards fundamentalism.
The novel’s only weakness, however, is it’s over-abundance of sub plots. Down-on-their-luck detectives are a staple of noir fiction, but the number of problems poor Carl Morck has to deal with would drive even the most dedicated therapist insane.
Not only must Carl catch the novel’s sinister villains, he must manage the fallout from a previous investigation, and face a divorce, an illness, a meeting with his new girlfriend’s eccentric family, and a relative out to spoil his good name. Some of these issues are carry-overs from previous stories, which can be confusing for new readers.
Many of these subplots feel unnecessary and are resolved rather unsatisfactorily. Trying to stay focused on Morck’s investigations in the present day and Nete’s life in the past is difficult enough without all these distractions!
While one of the novel’s final twists may be slightly off-putting to some readers, The Purity Of Vengeance is generally satisfying, and will delight noir neophytes and crime connoisseurs alike. Who knew a department of cold cases could produce such a red hot tale?