Inspector Carl Mørck and his raffish colleagues at Copenhagen’s Department Q (The Absent One, 2012, etc.) go up against a truly fiendish kidnapper.
A few days after he and his brother Tryggve were abducted, Poul Holt managed to scrawl a plea for help in his own blood, deposit it in a bottle and toss it into the sea. Hundreds of miles away, the bottle made landfall and was turned over to Scottish police Sgt. David Bell, who made no attempt to open his discovery. Years passed. Bell died. A computer expert in his station smashed the bottle and immediately contacted Department Q, the perfect venue for the case since “it’s old, it’s unsolved, and no one else could be bothered.” The group’s assignment begins with trying to figure out, after all this time, what the message says, who wrote it and when. These tasks are made more difficult since no one reported any children missing at the time and place the message indicates. While Carl and his crew are working feverishly on the dead case, the kidnapper is at work bringing it very much back to life by targeting another pair of children, Magdalena Krogh and her big brother, Samuel. (The reason why he prefers to snatch two victims at a time is the story’s most cunning secret, and its most disturbing.) Even after Carl and his Syrian assistant Hafez el-Assad have surmounted the obstacles thrown up by Poul Holt’s parents, who insist that he’s still alive, they’ll have to overcome a much wider conspiracy of silence the kidnapper has been counting on to make accomplices of his victims’ families for all these years.
Less byplay among the regulars than usual, mainly since whenever promising domestic and group complications arise, Adler-Olsen lets them die on the vine. But the detection and thrills are authentic.