This Danish debut manages to combine white-hot academic debates, well-nigh universal family dysfunction and murder most foul.
It’s always an anxious time when your dissertation defense draws near, especially if you’re the single mother of a 3-year-old whose adviser has always been distant and unsupportive. But all those traumas pale for University of Copenhagen graduate student Anna Bella Nor when her unloved supervisor, professor Lars Helland, is found dead in his office, his freshly severed tongue sitting on his chest. How did Helland die, and why has his tongue been removed? Superintendent Søren Marhauge, whom Anna dubs the World’s Most Irritating Detective, ought to be the person answering those questions, but he’s sorely distracted by the loss of all those he loved the most and, more recently, by his sins against his ex-lover Vibe. Despite his preoccupation, Søren soon finds someone with a perfect motive for murder, if indeed Helland was murdered: professor Clive Freeman, whose long-running argument with Helland over the question of whether birds are modern dinosaurs (Helland) or the descendants of a common ancestor (Freeman) had long since turned both antagonists into zealots. But Freeman, whose rivalry with Helland has poisoned his friendship with his cherished student Jack Jarvis, was thousands of miles away in Vancouver when Helland died. A second suspicious death deepens the mystery and makes it seem ever more unlikely that all the strands will ever be tied together.
Gazan’s approach to the genre—everyone serves as his or her own detective searching for the solution to his or her own mystery—is more Fyodor Dostoevsky than Agatha Christie. The results are uneven, and the ending is inevitably anticlimactic, but the journey there is a revelation.