Something new is rotten in the state of Denmark in this debut from a sister-and-brother team: five middle-aged men drugged, stripped, mutilated and hanged in a geometrically precise formation.
DI Konrad Simonsen, head of Copenhagen’s Homicide Division, is on vacation, but the holiday he’s taking with Anna Mia, the 19-year-old daughter he neglected for many years, ends abruptly with the news of a grisly discovery. Someone has decorated the gym of the Langbæk School in Bagsværd with five corpses dangling from the ceiling. The hands of the victims have been removed and their faces disfigured with a chain saw, presumably to delay their identification. Without knowing who they are, Simonsen obviously has little to go on in solving their murders, and it’s not surprising that his suspicion quickly falls close to home, on Per Clausen, the school’s janitor. Clausen has almost enough history to make up for the blank slates of the victims. He was a brilliant student and a successful physicist until the drowning of his daughter Helene, 17, marked a reversal of his fortunes. Soon after the police question him and receive nothing but evasive responses, he vanishes. Meanwhile, Simonsen is being harassed by pesky reporter Anni Staal; local citizens, when they get wind of the likely motive for the murders, are by no means eager to help catch the killers; and members of the Homicide Squad have their own obligatory problems, especially married gambler Arne Pedersen, who’s begun an affair with the squad’s newest member, Pauline Berg. The case would seem hopeless if the authors didn’t keep cutting away to close-ups of the conspirators responsible for the five victims’ deaths: advertising executive Erik Mørk, farmer Stig Åge Thorsen, nurse Helle Smidt Jørgenson and a wraithlike killer who prefers to be called the Climber.
Middling for the endless recent crop of Scandinavian procedurals apparently designed to inhibit tourism and make you glad you’re staying in the temperate zone.