(26. - 1051.) A Conspiracy of Faith by Jussi Adler-Olsen - In a chilling prologue two brothers are bound in a building facing a grim fate. One uses his own blood to write a message he slips into a bottle that he drops into the water beneath the building.
Carl Mørck, still feeling guily over the quadriplegia of his partner Hardy, has had Hardy moved into his home.
At work asbestos dust has forced Department Q upstairs. Mørck confronts an officious bureaurcrat from Health and Safety explaining Q’s presence in the basement is not a work area but “archive briefing space” and directs a partition be placed between the “space” and the contaminated area. To achieve their return downstairs Mørck’s supervisor acquiesces to a scheme where 3 desks are set up in an upper corridor to be occupied by Department Q whenever Health and Safety come for an inspection.
In Scotland the bottle, having washed ashore years earlier, is finally noticed sitting on a police office window and analyzed. It is difficult to decipher the message. Once determined to be Danish the paper and bottle are sent to the Danish police and then to Department Q.
Rose and Assad mount blowups of the writing on the wall as they work upon completing the message. There are extensive gaps.
The focus of the rest of the force is upon a series of arsons with a deceased man found at each location. The common clue is a groove around the little finger of each victim. Assad notices a comparable groove on the body of one of their cold cases. The discovery intensifies the investigation.
At the same time a predator is stalking a family who are members of the Mother Church, a religious sect more like a cult, which worships the Mother of God. He selects his victims from intensely religious denominations such as the Mother Church and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Uncommon in my recent reading experience the predator has a wife and child. He leaves them behind when he leaves on a “business trip” allegedly involving the worlds of intelligence services or undercover police work.
He is a calculating man, the embodiment of evil. He will charm and manipulate his prey. In this case he is focused on a 12 year old girl, Magdalena, and her slightly older brother, Samuel. Adler-Olsen has a talent for describing wickedness. As the predator has no real name through the book I shall call him X.
He looks for families with lots of children as he kidnaps two at a time for ransom.
X. grew up in a severe home:
In the place where they were no one ever laughed. Laughter lines in faces were something he saw in the town, and he found them displeasing. His life was without laughter. Without joy. Not since he was five years old …
With Rose, her sister Yrsa, a former forensic investigator turned cafeteria worker and Assad contemplating the message, words gradually emerge. It is a complex crossword puzzle. There are so many missing letters, even words. I looked forward to seeing the next words being determined. I found myself contemplating the message.
Department Q is not aware of the continuing kidnappings. As a cold case there is not the sense of urgency of an ongoing kidnapping. Only the reader knows how urgent the situation is for Samuel and Magdadelena.
When some forensic evidence provides a break in the case and the police come to understand there is a monster who could be still preying on religious children the pace accelerates.
There is a heart pounding car chase.
At the same time Department Q is pursuing the arson investigations. Forensic accounting leads the way. I struggled to see why the arsons were a part of the plot.
And then the pace becomes unrelenting as Department Q uses bits of information to lead them forward.
X is resourceful. He plans for the unexpected. He has escape routes from everywhere he travels. He has identities beyond count. He is ruthless in pursuing his goals lacking empathy or conscience. Yet he loves his 18 month old son. I will remember X.
Adler-Olsen has written a complex story that at times I wished I had to suspend disbelief but which I found all too plausible. For every plot turn at which I wondered how could that happen there is a credible explanation. He is an impressive writer of crime fiction. I plan to proceed to reading the next in the series, The Purity of Vengeance.