On 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.