The Surveys of Department V: the Jewel of Nordic Literature

I took advantage of my summer holidays to read all the detective stories in the series “ les investigations of the department V ” by Jussi Adler-Ossen. Of the seven volumes already written, published and translated into French, three have been adapted for film, with the fourth due for release in 2018.

Initially, I was thinking of doing a two-part chronicle on all the novels, but they are so rich and interesting that they deserve a dedicated chronicle and this one will serve as an introduction to the others, hoping that they will make your mouth water.

Something rotten in the Kingdom of Denmark

The general skeleton of the plot is quite simple: Carl Mørck, following an investigation that goes wrong, finds himself at the head of a department responsible for solving unsolved cases. He is assisted by Hafez El-Assad, an assistant who did not graduate from the police academy, then by Rose, secretary and finally by Gordon, future lawyer. In the background are Marcus Jacobson, Lars Bjørn, Vigga, Jester, Hardy, Morten and Mona, who complete the picture.

Seen from France, we always think of the Nordic countries as havens of peace, with little or no crime, no corruption, where everything is sweetness, peace and quiet and hot chocolate by the fire. Far from this image of Épinal, we plunge into a very cold, very icy universe – Dossier 64 nailed me – and above all very black. That’s all it took to please me. Murder, rape, torture, kidnapping, murder, corruption, mental illness, organised crime, here we have the Danish Criminal Code in seven lessons.

But it wouldn’t be any fun if all this had happened nowadays. Some of the stories go back to the ’50s. You might as well know that the team in Department V can only partially use the computer tool, except in certain special cases, which I will describe in detail.

From Books to Movies

I happened to see the movies before I read the books and in a way it was better. Indeed, some passages have been erased or watered down. If Mercy is the most faithful adaptation, Profanation has been made more acceptable, because the book is much more trashy. As for Deliverance, some passages have been softened and some characters are absent in the adaptation whereas they are essential in the book.

Nevertheless, on the whole, the adaptations are quite good and Carl Mørck’s interpreter is faithful to the character of the books: taciturn, a bit grumpy, a smoker but brave and stubborn, which is an essential quality for an inspector.

But the cinematic adaptation makes two very funny characters lose relief: Assad and Rose.

Who are you Assad ?

How does a Syrian refugee manage to work for the police, without even having Danish nationality or having gone through the school of police ? This is the whole question we ask ourselves throughout the seven books and little by little we learn about Assad, who is not really called Hafez El-Assad and is not really Syrian either. We don’t know who he is, where he’s from, what he was doing before he joined the V department.

The halo of mystery that surrounds him does not prevent him from being a good investigator and slipping here and there metaphors based on camels and dromedaries, which still resulted in me searching in a Search Engine for what a three-humped camel could look like.

Not being Danish by birth, he also sometimes combines certain expressions, which makes them much more fun, but sometimes he loses his Latin to Carl Mørck. This comic effect softens the general mood of the novels and gives rise to a few smiles, even a few laughs, which lighten the sinister atmosphere of the novels.

Above all, Assad mediates between our taciturn detective and the impetuous Rose.

A storm named (sometimes) Rose

Starting with volume two, Rose serves as secretary to Department V. She is so self-effacing in film adaptations that she is colourful and verbose in novels, to the point that some cases are only solved thanks to her stubbornness in seeing links where her colleagues see none.

But she is also tormented and fragile in certain aspects and the duality of her character makes her very interesting, to the point that the seventh volume – Selfies – is more or less devoted to her in part. Her way of being gives rise to incompatibilities with Carl Mørck, who does not always know how to behave with her without triggering a chain of disasters.

Luckily for the latter, Assad’s reinforcement arrives another character: Gordon. Housed in department V to act as a mole for Lars Bjørn, he is clumsy and lacks police sense, but seems to be equipped with a decoder of Rose, because it is he who, curiously, manages to understand her and sometimes channel her.

Cute characters in a horrific setting

All these characters are essential to give a little humanity to the various investigations of Department V. While some are purely imaginary, others are based on real facts. Thus, for Dossier 64, it turns out that some of the elements used to build the plot really existed, as you will see in the chronicle that will be devoted to it.

I’m not particularly fond of detective stories, and for some reason, the detective stories that come from the cold resonate in me, I instantly get hooked on them, being put off neither by the very cold aesthetic, nor by the bloody stories – you already knew that -, nor by the Nordic-sounding names.

Sometimes, literature is like love at first sight: it falls on you, you don’t know why and you don’t want to explain it, you just want to live it fully.




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