Murder Part II: Who are those deadly Danes?
Carl Mørck has truly become a rock star in the world of Scandinavian noir crime fiction. In fact, when author Jussi Adler-Olsen reads to an audience about Mørck’s latest escapades, they clap and cheer. Mørck, as you probably already know, is the flawed but ever-so-appealing detective of Adler-Olsen’s Department Q novels of which The Keeper of Lost Causes, The Absent One, and A Conspiracy of Faith are available in the U.S.
What in my very limited knowledge of Denmark and Danish culture explains the appeal of this guy, Mørck? Whatever it is, this surly, rumpled, antagonistic anti-hero is serious competition for that other best-loved surly, rumpled, antagonistic anti-hero, Kurt Wallander (a Henning Mankell creation) who is a Swede, drinks more alcohol and eats more bad food than Mørck but still they have much in common, especially their ever so dysfunctional family situations.
Jussi Adler-Olsen’s first book featuring deputy detective superintendent Carl Mørck and Department Q was The Keeper of Lost Causes, which only gradually pulled me into the basement of police headquarters in Copenhagen where Mørck spends his workdays. He’s blessed (although he might describe it differently) early on by a brand-new assistant/helper/driver who happens to be a very capable, frequently amusing and sometimes irreverent Syrian Muslim. The storyline focuses on a missing female politician with a developmentally disabled brother; it is in turn suspenseful, ordinary, fantastic and funny—the latter being due primarily to Mørck’s jaded opinion of pretty much everything.
I push and pull and sometimes force characters to fit into some persona I can describe as Russian or South African or British OR Scandinavian—in this case Danish. Having known very few Danes in real life I’m going to use my experiences with a Danish dance company and from watching Borgen on Link TV to make the case that Mørck is somehow more Danish than say Norwegian or Icelandic or French for that matter.
Mørck Dancing: I am familiar with a Danish contemporary dance company, Granhoj Dans. Palle Granhoj is the talented choreographer and performer who makes work that is very European—meaning intellectual, thoughtful, puzzling, rarely just pretty. Granhoj however has a serious twinkle in his eye when discussing pretty much anything and a gentle irony pervades most of his conversation. He is my model for Mørck who, although older and more beat up by life, and whose general modus operandi is pure sarcasm, is nevertheless likable in his own churlish way. I don’t think Mørck’s appearance has ever really been described so I imagine he is quite tall and fair with twinkling blue eyes and a wry grin or sexy sneer.
Also, if Mørck were a choreographer he might have made a piece with a giant fake polar bear skin covering the dance floor; intense lights that bend and twist; and dancers who could be cops or killers—in the best possible way of course. He’s just that kind of guy.
Mørck Politicking: Mørck can be easily imagined on the fine Danish TV series Borgen. The show portrays the political judgments, manipulations, trials and occasional triumphs of a female prime minister. The characters are smart, articulate, relatively honest but not above some murky political maneuvering and usually blonde. That all fits perfectly with Mørck who’s all of that and more. I think the young spin doctor, Kasper Juul (Pilou Asbaek) on Borgen could be a younger Mørck gone into politics instead of police work.
I just finished The Absent One and am partway through A Conspiracy of Faith, so more about that in the next chapter of Murder Most Danish.
Since I have no photos of dark and gloomy winter’s day in Denmark, here are a couple from wintry Minnesota 50 or 60 years ago.