This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers, and is reprinted here with permission.
Danish detective Carl Mørck and his Syrian assistant Assad are back with their third Department Q case in Jussi Adler-Olsen’s A Conspiracy of Faith, taking on an old mystery involving a message in a bottle. The note was written in blood in 1996, and the heading clearly says, “Help,” but time and exposure to the elements have obscured most of the rest of it.
Mørck, Assad, and the department’s temporary assistant Yrsa slowly piece together the message, and realize the writer was in a deadly situation. They track down his family, but the parents refuse to talk about him or even confirm whether their son is alive.
Despite their silence, the Department Q team discovers a serial killer preying on the fears of certain religious sects to murder and get away with his crimes. Mørck and Assad put their lives on the line to confront this cruel and violent man, but will they be in time to save his latest victims?
One of Adler-Olsen’s trademarks is creating hideous villains, and then giving them a backstory that makes readers almost feel sorry for them. The killer here is no different, having suffered a horrific childhood. It does not justify his actions, but at least gives him a strong motive. He’s not just evil for evil’s sake.
The main plot has holes and several subplots seem unnecessary, but Mørck and Assad remain an engaging duo, trying to help sympathetic victims in a disturbing case that’s timely in its portraiture of people who use religion to inflict unutterable grief on others.
Nerd verdict: The story has holes, but have Faith in Carl Mørck and Assad