Category Archives: Jussi Adler-Olsen

Copenhagen, I’ve Never Felt Your Grip so Tight*

denmarkOn the surface of it, Copenhagen is a peaceful, lovely place. When you think of Copenhagen, you may think of Hans Christian Andersen, or perhaps the beautiful Tivoli Gardens.  If you think of Denmark, you may think of the striking seacoast, or the quiet farmland. Your first thought probably isn’t of murder and mayhem. But trust me, there is plenty of crime-fictional havoc wreaked in Denmark. Don’t believe me? Just consider these examples from the genre.

Copenhagen is the setting for part of Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow. That’s the story of Smilla Jaspersen, a half-Inuit Greenlander who now lives in Copenhagen. Smilla’s not a particularly social person, but she’s developed a sort of friendship with a ten-year-old boy, Isaiah Christiansen, who lives in the same building. He, too, is a Greenlander, so they share that bond. One day, Isaiah dies from a tragic fall from the room of his (and Smilla’s) apartment building. Smilla finds herself drawn to the scene, and notices the patterns in the snow. They suggest to her that Isaiah’s fall wasn’t so accidental, so she starts to ask questions. Those questions lead Smilla into grave danger – and into something much bigger than one small boy’s fall from a roof.

In Leif Davidson’s The Serbian Dane, we are introduced to Vuk, a Bosnian Serb who was raised in Denmark. He is hired to kill Sara Santanda, an Iranian author who’s been living in hiding in London. She’s under a death threat, and Vuk is tapped to carry that threat out when Santanda decides to travel to Copenhagen. Her plan is to give an exclusive interview to Lise Carlsen of the newspaper Politiken. The Danish government is well aware of her plan, and assigns Per Toflund, a security expert with the Danish national police, the responsibility for her safety. He and Vuk are formidable opponents, and as the story goes on, we see the tension build as we learn what measures each side is taking. We also learn the backstories of the main characters, and what’s led to the roles each plays.

Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Department Q series also takes place in Copenhagen. It features homicide detective Carl Mørck. When the series begins, he’s recovering from a line-of-duty incident in which he was gravely injured and a colleague killed. Another colleague was left with paralysis. As it is, Mørck’s not exactly an extrovert or an optimist. But after the incident, he got so difficult to work with that people no longer wanted to be teamed up with him. So, he was tapped to lead the new ‘Department Q,’ which was set up to investigate ‘cases of special interest’ – cold cases. Not only did that decision solve the problem of what to do with Mørck, but also, it gave the police some leverage with the government and the media. The top brass can now say they take all crimes seriously, and are conscientious about investigating. As the series continues, Mørck acquires first one assistant, Hafez al-Assad, and then another, Rose Knudsen. Both have interesting backgrounds and unique skills that they bring to the department. And all three are, in their way eccentric. Together, they form an interesting investigative team.

In Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis’ The Boy in the Suitcase, we are introduced to Red Cross nurse Nina Borg. When an old friend asks her to go to Copenhagen’s main train station and pick up a suitcase, Nina is willing to oblige. She discovers, to her shock, that the suitcase contains a little boy. He is drugged and frightened, but alive. When she tries to contact her friend, it seems that friend has disappeared. Now, Nina is drawn into a case that involves a missing boy, a shadowy figure nicknamed The Dane, and murder. As the series continues, Nina continues her work on behalf of others, especially immigrants to Denmark, who sometimes come with not much more than the clothes they’re wearing. As she tries to help those most in need, Nina has a tendency to put herself in too much danger. It’s alienated her family and is a serious, ongoing threat to her health. As the series goes on, she tries to put herself together, and it’s interesting to see how she goes about it.

And, just in case you were thinking that the rest of Denmark must be safer than Copenhagen, think again. Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen has written a few award-winning series and standalones. One of them features Tora Skammelsen, a writer who has moved to her aunt’s North Sea cottage to find some peace and quiet, sort her life out, and of course, write. In North Sea Cottage, she uncovers a skeleton in an old stable on the property. And she finds figurative skeletons in her family’s history. In The Woman Behind the Curtain, Tora finds out more than she intended about the people who live near her parents. And then there’s Football Widow, in which Tora and local police officer Thomas Bilgren look into the world of football and footballers’ families. There’s a fourth Tora Skammelsen story in the making, and I’m excited for it (I’m almost finished reading it, Dorte!).

And I haven’t even mentioned television series such as The Bridge and Dicte. You see? Don’t let appearances deceive you. Denmark is beautiful and peaceful on the surface. Underneath? Perhaps not so much.

ps Thanks, visitdenmark.com for the lovely ‘photo!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Tina Dickow’s Copenhagen.

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Filed under Agnete Friis, Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Leif Davidsen, Lene Kaaberbøl, Peter Høeg

The Man Said, Why Do You Think You’re Here?*

counselingPolice work and other criminal investigation can take a real toll on a person. After all, these people see the worst that humans can do to each other, and that can leave scars. Even the most sane, balanced person can get pushed to the breaking point under those circumstances.

That’s why many police departments have psychologists, either on their staff or as professional associates. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the detectives will actually use those services unless required. There’s still, to some extent, a stigma attached to getting mental health care. But more and more, people are seeing the wisdom of getting such support when it’s necessary. And that aspect of police work – the aftermath of a case – can make a fictional character more human and believable.

For example, in Michael Connelly’s The Last Coyote, LAPD detective Harry Bosch is at the end of his proverbial rope. After an incident in which he attacks a superior officer, he’s sent for mandatory psychological counseling, and relieved of his duties until he completes it. Bosch begins his sessions with Dr. Carmen Hinojos, who tries to help him face some of his personal issues. One of them is the fact that his mother was murdered when he was eleven. She was a prostitute, and not a ‘high profile’ one, either. So not much was done to investigate. Feeling at loose ends because of his enforced break from work, Bosch begins to look into his mother’s death again. That case, plus his work with Hinojos, helps Bosch do some of the work he needs to do to start functioning again.

In Ian Rankin’s Resurrection Men, we meet career analyst Andrea Thomson. On the one hand, she’s not a doctor, a psychiatrist, or a psychological therapist. She’s hired by the police (as a freelancer) to work with the detectives on job-related issues. On the other hand, job counseling and mental health counseling aren’t that far apart, so some of the same issues come up. That’s how she meets Inspector John Rebus, who’s just gotten into deep trouble for throwing a mug of cold tea at a supervisor during a meeting. In Rebus’ case, he’s been sent back to Tulliallan Police College for career counseling and a refresher course on working with others. Needless to say, Rebus isn’t happy being pulled from his regular work. Nor is he deeply interested in reflecting on his career. He’s happiest out on the streets, dong his job. He and a group of other detectives who’ve been sent for the same refresher course are given a ‘cold case’ to work, as a way of building their teamwork skills. But that doesn’t stop him working with Sergeant Siobhan Clarke on a case they were already investigating. Throughout the novel, it’s interesting to see how the police view counseling, Thomson, and the process of reflecting on their work.

Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes) introduces readers to Copenhagen detective Carl Mørck. As the novel opens, he’s just returned to active duty after a line-of-fire incident in which one of his colleagues was killed, and another left with permanent paralysis. Mørck was badly injured, too, and not just physically. He’s never been overly friendly or extroverted, but since his return, he’s been even worse. In fact, no-one wants to work with him. So he’s ‘promoted’ to head a new department called ‘Department Q,’ which will have responsibility for cases of special interest – cold cases. In this way, the Copenhagen police can respond to media and public criticism over unsolved cases, and at the same time get Mørck out of the way. The first case that Mørck and his assistant, Hafez al-Assad re-open is the five-year-old disappearance of promising politician Merete Lynggaard. At the time she went missing, everyone thought she’d had a tragic fall from a ferry. But Mørck and Assad begin to suspect she may still be alive; if so, she may be in grave danger. In the meantime, Mørck’s boss wants him to get some psychological help. The department has recently hired a crisis counselor, Mona Ibsen, and Mørck is strongly encouraged to work with her. He has no desire to face any personal issues, but he is smitten by the new counselor. And it’s both funny and awkward to see how he starts to do the work he needs to do, even if it is for very much the wrong reasons. Fans of this series will know how both his mental health work and his interactions with Mona Ibsen evolve as the series does.

In David Mark’s Sorrow Bound, Hull D.S. Aector McAvoy and his team are up against a dangerous new crime boss. At the same time, they’re dealing with what looks like a series of revenge killings that are related to past police investigations. And all of this takes place during a heat wave that makes everyone miserable. Things aren’t made easier for McAvoy by the fact that he’s been required to attend six sessions of counseling to help him deal with some of the trauma he’s been through recently. Here’s what he says to Sabine Kean, his counselor:
 

‘‘Look, the people at occupational health have insisted I come for six sessions with a police-approved counselor. I’m doing that. I’m here. I’ll answer your questions, and I’m at great pains not to be rude to you, but it’s hot and I’m tired and I have work to do, and yes, there are lots of places I would rather be. I’m sure you would, too.’’
 

As the novel goes on, we see how McAvoy’s sessions progress and where they lead him, mentally speaking.

Of course, it’s not only the police who occasionally need mental health support, whether they admit it, or want it, or not. Fans of Åsa Larsson’s Rebecka Martinsson series will know that Martinsson, who is a lawyer, needs and gets quite a lot of psychological counseling after experiencing severe trauma in The Savage Altar (AKA Sun Storm) and The Blood Spilt.

It makes sense to weave this element in to crime novels, since crime is traumatic. So long as it’s not melodramatic, that sort of plot thread can help make characters seem more believable.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Amy Winehouse’s Rehab. 

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Filed under Åsa Larsson, David Mark, Ian Rankin, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Michael Connelly

So Many Pieces Still Unsolved*

UnsolvedAs I post this, today would have been Amelia Earhart’s 119th birthday. Her life was certainly fascinating, and her career has been an inspiration to many people. But as much as that, it’s her disappearance that’s captured the public’s imagination. In 1937, she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, went missing in the area of Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean. There were on a round-the-world flight that was being followed by millions of people when they went off the radar.

There have been many theories about what happened to Earhart and Noonan. Some have held up better than others, but as far as I’m aware, there’s been no indisputable evidence of their fate. And that’s precisely what makes this disappearance so irresistibly interesting to so many people. It’s an unsolved case, and people very often find them fascinating.

There are plenty of other real-life unsolved cases, too. They’re the subject of a lot of speculation and theories. There are crime-fictional cases as well. And they capture people’s interest even when those people have no stake in what really happened. It’s human nature to be curious.

In Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, for instance, Inspector Alan Grant is laid up with a broken leg. As he’s recuperating, he happens to muse on a portrait of King Richard III. His reflection leads him to the question of whether the king was really the murderer he was made out to be. That possibility gets Grant curious about what really happened to Edward V of England and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York. Most people have always thought Richard III had them killed. But Grant begins to wonder if there’s another theory. So he looks into the matter.

Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse shows a similar sort of curiosity in The Wench is Dead. In that novel, Morse is laid up with an ulcer. During his recovery, he reads a book about the 1859 discovery of the body of Joanna Franks in one of Oxford’s canals. At the time of her murder, two men were arrested, found guilty, and duly hung. But Morse isn’t sure that they really were guilty. So he can resist looking into the case again. Neither he nor Inspector Grant is officially assigned to the case in question. It’s just human nature and the desire to get answers that drives them.

Agatha Christie’s The Thirteen Problems also shows the human tendency to want questions answered and mysteries solved. The Thirteen Problems is a collection of short stories, loosely tied together by an overarching theme. A group of people meet every Tuesday evening. At each meeting, one person describes a murder case. The others try to solve the murder. And it’s interesting to see how the human wish to impose order and have things make sense plays a role. I agree with you, fans of Anthony Berkeley’s The Poisoned Chocolates Case.

Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes) introduces Copenhagen homicide detective Carl Mørck. In the novel, he’s recently returned to work after a line-of-duty shooting that left him injured, one colleague murdered and another with permanent paralysis. Never the easiest person in the world to work with, Mørck has become even more difficult since his return. So, for several reasons, he’s given a new role: head of a new department, Department Q, which is dedicated to looking at ‘cases of special interest’ – cold cases. Mørck’s first instinct is to do as little as possible, since he’s very cynical about both the department and his appointment to it. But then one case captures the interest of his assistant, Hafaz al-Assad. Five years earlier, up-and-coming politician Merete Lynggaard when missing during a ferry trip with her brother, Uffe. The theory at the time was that she went overboard and drowned. But her body has never been found. Assad is curious about the case, since some things don’t quite add up. So he persuades his boss to re-open it and look into it more deeply. And that’s when the two discover that Merete Lynggaard might still be alive. If so, she may have very little time left.

And then there’s Paddy Richardson’s Cross Fingers, the second of her novels to feature Wellington TV journalist Rebecca Thorne. The nation is getting ready for the 30th anniversary of the South Africa Springboks’ rugby tour, which was to include matches with the New Zealand All-Blacks. At the time of The Tour, as it’s often called, apartheid was in full force in South Africa, and many people protested the Springboks’ visit. Others simply wanted to see the matches. And, of course, the police were responsible for keeping order and protecting everyone’s safety. The controversial decision to let the visit go ahead led to some real ugliness. Now, Thorne’s bosses want a new angle on the 30th anniversary story. Thorne doesn’t really think there is one at first. And in any case, she’s busy with another story. But then, one small item catches her attention. During the match, two people dressed as lambs went to the games, where they danced, made fun, and entertained the crowds. Then, they stopped attending. Thorne’s curious about what happened to The Lambs. Her curiosity is piqued even more when she learns that one of them was a professional dancer who was killed one night. Now, Thorne can’t resist looking into what really happened.

And that’s the thing about human nature. And it’s part of the reason for which people still want to know what happened to Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. I hope we learn the real truth.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Powderfinger’s Thrilloilogy.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, Colin Dexter, Josephine Tey, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Paddy Richardson

But I Simply Cannot Do it Alone*

Working With OthersThere are many skills that are important to doing well in any career. It’s important to know how to do the job, of course, but it goes beyond that. People also need a constellation of social and personal skills and dispositions (like truthfulness, consistency and conscientiousness). One of the most important of these is the ability to work with others. In fact, not working well with others is often cited among the top reasons employees are terminated, not promoted, or not hired in the first place.

It’s easy to understand why being able to work with others is so important. Nobody has all of the answers or all of the information needed to solve a problem. We depend on each other. And in real life, when it comes to solving crimes, it’s even more important. Police officers’ lives may quite literally depend on being able to work with their partners and with others on the force.

Not everyone is good at working with others, though. Although it’s certainly a skill that can be learned or improved, it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. And it’s interesting to see what happens in crime fiction when someone isn’t good at working with others.

In Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Hercule Poirot investigates the stabbing death of a retired business magnate. Since Ackroyd was murdered in his home, the various members of the household come under their share of suspicion. One of those members is the parlourmaid, Ursula Bourne. She does her job well, but she’s not friends with others, and doesn’t join in. In fact, one character calls it ‘unnatural’ that she doesn’t seem to have any desire to be a part of the group. And another character considers her ‘odd;’ she’s respectful on the surface, but doesn’t have the same response to authority as the other staff members do. That doesn’t, of course, mean that she’s the killer in this case. But it does show that not working well with others raises proverbial ‘red flags.’

Any fan of Ian Rankin’s John Rebus novels can tell you that Rebus has his challenges when it comes to working with others, especially authority figures. He certainly doesn’t ‘go along to get along,’ particularly if he thinks that what’s being done is wrong. And that gets him in big trouble in Resurrection Men. Rebus and his team are working on the case of Edward Marber, a murdered Edinburgh art dealer. The investigation isn’t going particularly well, and everyone’s nerves are frayed. One morning, DCS Gill Templer holds a meeting about the case, which Rebus attends. He’s fed up with the idea of yet another round of interviews, telephone calls and the like, which he sees as a useless waste of time. He mutters something under his breath, but Templer hears it. Their confrontation escalates until Rebus throws a mug of cold tea. That’s enough to get him assigned to Tulliallan Police College for last-chance training with other police officers who also have trouble working with others. They’re given a cold case to investigate, the idea being that they’ll learn to work as a team. But that doesn’t stop Rebus’ interest in the Marber case.

In Louise Penny’s Still Life, the first of her Armand Gamache novels, the Sûreté du Québec investigates the murder of former schoolteacher Jane Neal. The newest member of the investigation team is Yvette Nichol, and she is determined to prove herself. The problem is, though, that she’s not good at working with others. Right from the start, she is unwilling to listen and learn. She does things her own way, regardless of what others think. On the one hand, she is intelligent, and her ideas are not all wrong. On the other, she is immature as a detective, and has an awful lot to learn. Her ‘rookie mistakes’ cost the team more than once. At one point, Gamache’s second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, talks to his boss about how much trouble Nichol is causing. In response, Gamache tries to talk to her, to help her see how important it is to work with the team, to listen and learn from more experienced detectives, and to do as she’s asked without arrogance. It doesn’t work. In fact, Nichol blames Gamache for her failures, and the team for her difficulties working with them. It all ends up with her being removed from the investigation, and that has its own consequences. And in this novel, we also see that not working well with others is sometimes as hard on the person who can’t work as a team member as it is on the rest of the team.

Kate Ellis’ The Merchant’s House introduces DS (later DI) Wesley Peterson. He and his wife Pam have recently moved from London to Tradmouth, so he can take up his duties with the local CID. He and his team, led by DI Gerry Heffernan, are soon faced with the puzzling case of a young woman whose body is discovered at Little Tradmouth Head. Even more disturbing is the disappearance of young Jonathon Berrisford from the yard of the cottage where he and his mother Elaine are staying. As the team begins its work, Peterson learns a bit about why there was an open position in the Tradmouth CID. His predecessor was DS Harry Marchbank, who’d also come from London. It seems Marchbank was difficult to work with, and frankly, a racist. Here’s what one colleague says:
 
‘‘There was always an atmosphere. If Harry hadn’t got out when he did, I reckon Heffernan would’ve got him transferred.’’
 

Peterson is certainly not perfect. But he does work well with the team, and soon learns to fit in.

And then there’s Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Carl Mørck, whom we meet first in Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes). Mørck isn’t exactly easy to work with under the best of circumstances, and these are hardly good circumstances. He’s recovering physically and mentally from a line-of-duty shooting situation in which one colleague was murdered and another left with paralysis. When he returns to the job, Mørck is so impossible to work with that complaints are made to his boss, Marcus Jacobsen. At first, Jacobsen wants to give Mørck a little more time. But there’s a lot of pressure on him to do something. Then, he comes up with what he thinks will be the perfect solution. The Danish government and the media have been pressuring the police to solve certain crimes that have ‘gone cold.’ So Jacobsen puts Mørck in charge of a new department – ‘Department Q’ – that will focus solely on such crimes. The new department is only there to serve political purposes, so in actual terms, it doesn’t exist. But Mørck and his assistant Hafez al-Assad (who’s actually been hired as a custodian) get to work. Mørck is inclined not to do much, but Assad notices an interesting case – the five-year-old disappearance of promising politician Merete Lynggaard. Together, Mørck and Assad start to ask questions about the case, and slowly discover that she may not have died as everyone thought. And if she’s still alive, she may be in grave danger.

In that case, not working well with others leads to a whole new opportunity. But that’s not the way it usually happens. In general, working well with others is an essential professional skill. And there are definitely consequences for people who can’t do that.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Kander and Fred Ebb’s I Can’t Do it Alone.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ian Rankin, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Kate Ellis, Louise Penny

No One Messes With My Girls*

Brothel OwnersThe sex trade can be very dangerous, especially for those who work independently. Brothels can be a safer and healthier alternative to going it alone, especially if they’re owned and run by skilled and caring owners. Brothel owners have a vested interested in making sure their employees are healthy and safe. And in places where prostitution is illegal, they’re very helpful in terms of keeping the employees out of trouble with the law. Some of them are very particular about clients, too, so that their employees are at less risk. For the client, brothels can offer a more comfortable atmosphere. And if the brothel owner is doing the job well, there’s less risk of STDs.

Of course, real and fictional brothels run the gamut from elegant, upmarket places to seedy, very dangerous places where the employees are treated horribly. Either way, brothel owners can make very interesting characters in crime novels and series. On the one hand, what they are doing is illegal in a lot of places. On the other, they can be very helpful sources of information, and the police find that it’s often better all round to work with them than to make life too difficult for them.

Ed McBain’s Steve Carella knows that. In Cop Hater, he and his team are looking for a suspect they believe might be responsible for killing two of his colleagues, Mike Reardon and David Foster. They’ve traced this suspect to a local brothel owned by Mama Luz. Carella and Mama Luz have a very amicable relationship. Here’s how she greets him when he and his rookie assistant visit her establishment:
 

“You come on a social call?’ she asked Carella, winking.
‘If I can’t have you, Mama Luz,’ Carella said, ‘I don’t want anybody.’’

 

She’s helpful in directing him to the room where the suspect is, too.

In M.C. Beaton’s Death of a Nag, Hamish Macbeth has been having a difficult time lately. He’s been demoted from the rank of sergeant, and his engagement to Priscilla Haliburton-Smythe is now off. At loose ends and fed up with everything, Macbeth decides to take some time away. He stays at the Friendly House, a beachside inn. It’s not exactly the peaceful respite he’d hoped for, though. Many of the guests are at the very least annoying, and the innkeepers aren’t exactly the stuff of travel fantasy. Then, Bob Harris, who’s one of the residents, is murdered. Macbeth finds himself drawn into the investigation, and begins to trace Harris’ last days and weeks. That includes a follow-up on an incident in which he himself saw Harris leave a brothel. The brothel’s owner, Mrs. Simpson, is both candid and co-operative. It’s clear from their exchange that she’s used to being on what’s technically speaking the wrong side of the law, but at the same time working with the police. It’s also clear from this scene that she cares about the welfare of her employees.

So does Candace Curtis, whom we meet in Jill Edmondson’s Dead Light District. In that novel, she hires Toronto PI Sasha Jackson to find one of her employees, Mary Carmen Santamaria. The young woman’s gone missing, and Curtis is concerned that something might have happened to her. Jackson takes the case, and as she investigates, she learns quite a bit about the Toronto sex trade. She also gets to know her new client, and her client’s way of running her business. Curtis takes the well-being of her employees very seriously, so she’s quite particular about accepting clients. She insists, too, on ensuring her employees’ dignity and self-esteem. She’s also smart when it comes to business, and has done well for herself and the women who work for her.

In David Whish-Wilson’s Line of Sight, which takes place in 1970’s Perth, we meet Superintendent Frank Swann. He’s been away from Perth for a few years, but returns when he learns that a friend has been murdered. The victim is brothel owner Ruby Devine, whose body has been found in her car on a golf course. The official police explanation is that she was probably killed by her partner Jacky White. But the case is flimsy and Swann is sure that more is going on here than a case of domestic violence gone horribly wrong. He’s not going to get much help from his work colleagues, because he’s already a marked man, as the saying goes, for requesting a Royal Commission hearing regarding police corruption. The police he’s accusing are members of what’s known as ‘the purple circle,’ a group known for graft, corruption, and vicious brutality if they are crossed. The word on the street is that they are responsible for Ruby’s murder, so lots of people are afraid to speak up against them for fear of a similar reprisal. Swann perseveres, though, and we learn the truth about Ruby’s death. In the meantime, the Royal Commission hearing goes on, and there’s testimony from several witnesses. One of them, Pat Chesson, is, like the victim, a brothel owner. Here’s what she says about the relationship between the owners and the police before the ‘purple circle’ moved in:
 

‘When I first arrived to set up my business here, there was understandings between myself and the police. We kept our part of the bargain, they kept theirs. We made sure all our girls was clean and well behaved. We kept a quiet profile. You wouldn’t know, walking past one of my businesses, what it was. And anyone who went outside the rules was run out of town.’’
 

Among other things, this shows the role that brothel owners play in making sure their businesses fit into the community without causing the police a lot of trouble.

In Jussi Adler-Olsen’s The Purity of Vengeance, Copenhagen homicide detective Carl Mørck gets a visit from an old nemesis, Børge Bak. Bak is a former colleague who has since transferred, and Mørck is none too pleased to see him. This time, Bak has a request. His sister Esther, who owns a brothel, has been attacked with acid, and Bak thinks he has the right man in custody. He wants Mørck’s help in getting a confession. He’s also brought along another case: the 1987 disappearance of another brothel owner, Rita Nielson. Mørck’s secretary/researcher Rose Knudsen is sure that the Nielsen case was more or less passed over – ‘shelved’ – because of the woman’s profession, and at her insistence, Mørck looks into it. He and his team discover that this disappearance, and that of several others on the same weekend, all have to do with one woman, Nete Hermansen, and her desire for revenge, especially against a doctor who horribly abused his medical privileges.

We also see plenty of brothel owners – mamasans – in work like that of John Burdett and Timothy Hallinan. In Southeast Asia (although not in all of Asia), these are women (there are also papasans – the male equivalent) who manage bars that also provide prostitution services. Their roles aren’t identical to the roles played by Western-style brothel owners, but they bear some similarities.  Mamasans and papasans ensure that customers pay the ‘bar fine’ – the price for leaving with one of the bar’s employees. They also make sure that the bar runs smoothly, and, where necessary, they pay off the police and other authorities.

There are many cases of brothel owners who are vicious and predatory, both in fiction and in real life. But plenty of them are business people who make a living providing a service. And some of them care a lot about their employees, and want to make sure that they’re safe and that their clients have a good experience, too. They can also make very interesting characters in a crime story.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Carol Hall’s A Lil’ Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place.

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Filed under David Whish-Wilson, Ed McBain, Jill Edmondson, John Burdett, Jussi Adler-Olsen, M.C. Beaton, Timothy Hallinan