Child abuse, rape, and deviant sex complicate a murder case in an area just outside of Copenhagen. Four days have passed since a woman’s body was discovered in the woods.
Frustrated and with no clues to go on, hotshot Detective Louise Rick begins work at the Department of Forensic Medicine. This is only Louise’s second week as technical manager of the Special Branch Search Agency, a newly established part of the Department designed to research missing-persons cases.
None of the missing women in the Department’s database match the description of the woman found in the woods. Louise and her new leather-jacketed, chain-smoking colleague Eik Nordstrom can find little information about the woman, except the fact that she was found at the edge of Avnso Lake by a forest worker on Thursday morning. At first, Louise’s team thought she had fallen or slipped and landed badly, but the medical examiner reveals
that the woman was mentally handicapped, had been profoundly neglected throughout her life, and was probably quite isolated.
No one knows why the victim was left neglected, alone, and sullied by the elements. Louise notices something vulnerable, almost childish about the part of her face that wasn’t disfigured by the large scar. Louise and Eik
finally discover the woman’s name--Lise--and that she had a twin sister called Mette. Gradually revealed to be victims of their past, both girls came around 1965 to the home of Eliselund, a hospital for the “retarded.” Agnete Esilden, who once worked as a care assistant at the hospital, tells Louise that many children did not have contact with their parents once they’d been handed over. Parents preferred to hide or even forget the fact that they had a “flawed” child. Louise is horrified, unable to accept the idea that any parent would abandon a child merely because he or she did not live up to expectations. Labeled the “forgotten children,” several of them--including Lise and Mette--never saw their parents again.
The Division for the Care of the Mentally Retarded ceased to exist in 1980, and much of Eliselund had closed down. At first Lise’s father, Viggo Anderson, refuses to speak about what he knows, far too frightened of opening old wounds. Attempting to win his confidence, Louise learns that Viggo thought the girls had died in Eliselund; he’d even received their death certificates. Viggo is able to tell Louise that the two sisters were kept together, even though they had different dispositions. Lise was the courageous one, the one to take the lead and take care of her sister, while poor Mette was less independent but in far a worse state.
Louise knows Mette is still alive, and she’s concerned that, like Lise, Mette is still in danger, especially when a rapist breaks into the home of a local woman. A local child minder is also raped and killed in the woods. Certain a new type of heinous villain is on the loose, Louise works against the clock to investigate whether the same person might be behind other crimes in the intervening years. Twenty years ago there were several aggravated assaults, two of the women raped and killed. The forensic scientists race to work on finding out whether these old cases can be linked to the murder of the childcare provider.
Although I sometimes had difficulty following the narrative threads of Louise’s personal life (there’s a back story from a number of previous books in the series), Blaedel succeeds creating an interesting, flawed heroine. Emotionally fraught Louise spends far too much energy denying and rejecting the parts of her past too painful to remember. There are other colorful characters: the ex-director of Eliselund, who holds secrets of her own; Camilla, Louise’s best friend, who is planning her wedding but constantly argues with her fiancé, Frederick. A retired journalist, Camilla decides to quietly pursue Louise’s case on her own terms, also interviewing Agnete
where she discovers that the kids considered “defective” were silently tortured
and hidden away. Eik, who likes to swill whisky in grunge bars, gradually takes over Louise’s office while flirting with her. Naturally an attraction develops between them, although their sudden sexual involvement is a bit predictable.
Although I thought Blaedel’s prose style too tight and stiff (perhaps the a
result of the translation?), she does a good job of creating a sense of
foreboding without letting the reader know exactly what there is to fear. She
also manages a reasonably good balance between Louise’s family dramas and her
external threats. Finally, the novel’s theme of rabid, unchecked sexual
compulsion, while perhaps a little controversial, becomes secondary to a mostly
suspenseful, creative plot.