Crime is confusing in any language.

She attempted a little smile but was obviously not in the habit because it didn’t work.


The book:

We return now to my work (and only) book club with a fellow member’s unusual pick: The Scarred Woman (Department Q, #7, 2017). I actually physically checked this book out of a library, after doing a little research to ensure I could follow the story without reading the previous six books. Mysteries and thrillers aren’t usually my cup of tea, as you’ll have noticed from the romances and historical fiction clogging this blog, but I’m down for a challenge. After all, this blog was also born out of a desire to expand my reading horizons, and trying an unfamiliar genre translated from an unfamiliar language is a pretty big leap.

Spoiler: Unlike my last review, the meaning behind this title continues to elude me. Unless we’re talking emotional scars, none of the female characters in this book fit the description. I’m skeptical on the scarring being metaphorical because I really don’t have that level of faith in the author’s use of subtlety. But more on that later.

The book’s hardback cover

I’ve traveled around Europe a few times, but haven’t yet made my way up to Scandinavia. After reading this book, I don’t think I’ll be rushing to make the trip up north anytime soon. Yes, I know that crime novels have a skewed perspective, but the picture this story paints isn’t a pretty one. For one of the most socially developed countries in the world, Denmark’s thick social safety net seems to have a gaping hole for the lazy and incompetent. As I’ll explain in more detail during this blog post, I was distracted from most of the mystery plot by the strange translation work. I didn’t become interested in the different mystery threads until more than halfway through the book–if it wasn’t for my book club or this blog, I wouldn’t have bothered to finish the story.

Spoiler: While this book certainly made sense without reading the previous six, one of the more compelling plot lines fell flat without more background. The character of Rose spends the entire book having a destructive mental breakdown as she relives past trauma. As well, Carl’s romantic and friendship histories are full of side characters (Mona, Hardy, Morten) with their own confusing sob stories that take up valuable page real estate.

The author:

Denmark’s #1 crime author Carl Valdemar Henry Jussi Adler-Olsen is the son of a chief psychiatrist and a native of Copenhagen. He spent his childhood with his family in doctors’ official residences at several mental hospitals across Denmark. Adler-Olsen’s novels have been sold in more than 40 languages. Outside Denmark he has enjoyed particular success in Norway, Germany and the Netherlands being a frequent visitor on the top of the bestseller lists. 


As an interesting bookend to my last book’s flawless translation, William Frost’s work leaves much to be desired. Of course, with any literary translation, we must consider the source material. Though, interestingly enough, Danes are ranked as the third-best non-native English speakers. So all the problems may not be laid at Frost’s feet. Also, this book was originally published in Danish as Selfies in 2016.

Are Danish crime novels always filled with step-by-step actions? Are descriptions filled with adjectives and cliches? I did read one other review that bemoaned Frost’s stilted translation of another Department Q novel, so it may be a trend. As noted in the author section, Adler-Olsen is most popular in Northern European countries, so there must be a cultural divide in literary styles.

The Danish cover of Selfies (2016)

What I loved:

Honestly, I found nothing to love about this novel. There were a few mildly amusing parts, but overall I couldn’t connect with the characters, the mystery, or Danish society as a whole. Maybe I need to eat my first Danish pastry to really connect…though the characters didn’t eat much, just drank red wine.

What I liked:

The disdain. In my limited experience, crime novels are distinguished by their pointed disgust. Whether it’s for an activity, person or place, something is always going wrong and fixated upon. In this book, the main villain, Anne-Line (Anneli) Svendsen, is fed up with the young women gaming the welfare system. While she has a point, obviously her kill-them-all solution is incredibly wrong.

Anneli: The majority of people who came to this center were people she wasn’t overly keen on.


Anneli: “You just can’t find fault with those girls. Everything matches: bags, shoes, clothes. It’s all bling, bling, bling!”


Anneli: But when she thought about the thousands of hours these parasitic girls had spent on making fools of her and the system, wasn’t it about time and good for everyone that someone finally took action?


What I could do without:

The cliches. While this book was already translated from Danish to English, one of the members of Department Q takes it a step further. Assad is still learning Danish from his native language of Arabic, and Carl is constantly correcting his use of idioms and cliches.

Spoiler: Assad is hiding something, as he occasionally speaks perfect Danish, and he eventually snaps at Carl for his constant correction interruptions.

“Yeah, but it still wasn’t very clever, Carl. I can scent that she’s not happy.”

Carl looked at him with confusion. “Scent! You mean ‘sense,’ don’t you, Assad? Scent is something else.”


“What’s up with Gordon, Carl?” asked Assad a few seconds later. “He looks like cold death.”

Carl shook his head. “Death warmed over, Assad. The phrase is ‘death warmed over.'”


“How? Are you going to stroke him the wrong way?”

“You mean rub him the wrong way, Assad.” Carl smiled.

Map of Copenhagen, Denmark

The details. Strangely enough, I do understand Anneli’s motivations for wanting to get rid of the welfare women. The ones we meet are milking the system to buy makeup, haircuts, and fashionable clothes. On the other hand, the police are shown as a diversity lineup described by a casting director and appear just as strange.

Michelle: Wasn’t it precisely at this angle that the hotspots–a woman’s eyelashes and pupils–best caught the attention of those around her?


The short, squat, and dark Assad, with masculinity oozing from his jet-black stubble, standing next to Gordon, looking pale and as tall as a giraffe in comparison, and who was still waiting for his first real shave.


The lack of subtlety. As I mentioned at the start of this post, Adler-Olsen truly lacks subtlety. I don’t speak a lick of Danish, but I have to believe it is a language without nuance based on the plots and descriptions in this book.
The author shoves his villain’s motivation down the reader’s throat by highlighting the moral-less nature of modern Danish society. A good author lets users use their imagination.

Michelle: “I didn’t like him bleeding from his head. Why did you do it? He was already unconscious.”

Jazmine: “I was raised badly,” she offered.

They looked at one another for a moment and then Michelle started to laugh. “Selfies!” she shouted and pulled out her phone.

Denise smiled.


It was deadly quiet in the S-train car because almost all the passengers were surfing on their smartphones and iPads. Some were enthusiastic and concentrated, while others were just scrolling their thumbs over the screen in the desperate hope for some form of contact.


The recommendation:

While I had plenty to talk about at my book club meeting, I’m not very excited about the content. All of the “good” characters were either racist or had anger issues, while the “bad” characters were lazy and deceitful.

If you really feel like diving into the dark side of Copenhagen society, I recommend starting with the first book. The translators trade the baton every few books, and maybe you will actually care about the characters starting from the beginning. I gave this book 2* on Amazon/Goodreads.

Spoiler: The book’s prologue definitely played out at the end of the novel, when the father is shown to be mostly alive, and completely twisted. The Zimmerman/Frank family had no good seeds. It was really lucky for Department Q and the rest of the Copenhagen police that Anneli decided to start knocking of welfare women so they could tie together all their outstanding cases with one rotten family. Wonderfully convenient.

Comment below if you thought this was a good representation of the mystery genre, or if you have any recommendations to cleanse my palate.

UK book cover

5 thoughts on “Crime is confusing in any language.

  1. Mike

    My guess is if you don’t care for mysteries in English, you probably won’t be appreciative of them in another language, but kudos for the effort.


    1. I guess not. I also think I need better characterization outside of the mystery itself. That’s what keeps me going back to Urban Fantasy (all of which usually have some mild mystery).


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