Jussi Adler-Olsen



Translated by Martin Aitken

Translation Consultant: Steve Schein


Published by the Penguin Group
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Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

First published in Denmark as Marco Effekten 2012
First published in Great Britain 2014

Copyright © Jussi Adler-Olsen, 2012
© JP/Politikens Forlagshus A/S, Copenhagen 2012
Translation copyright © Martin Aitken, 2014

Cover image © Plainpicture

All rights reserved

The moral right of the author and translator has been asserted

ISBN: 978-1-405-90982-2



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43



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Jussi Adler-Olsen has sold over 10 million books worldwide and is the winner of the prestigious Glass Key Award for Scandinavian crime fiction as well as the Golden Laurels, Denmark’s highest literary accolade.

He is the internationally bestselling author of the Department Q thrillers. The series includes Disgrace, Redemption, Guilt and The Keeper of Lost Causes, which was first published in the UK as Mercy, and is now a major Danish-language movie.

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Dedicated to my mother-in-law, Anna Larsen

Also By Jussi Adler-Olsen

The Department Q Series

The Keeper of Lost Causes

(previously titled Mercy)





Autumn 2008

Louis Fon’s last morning was as soft as a whisper.

He sat up on the cot with sleep in his eyes and his mind still a muddle, patted the little one who had stroked his cheek, wiped the snot from the tip of her brown nose and stuck his feet into his flip-flops on the stamped clay of the floor.

He stretched, squinting at the light as the cackle of hens and the distant cries of boys as they cut bananas from the palms drifted into the sun-baked room.

How peaceful it seemed as he took in the sharp aromas of the village. Only the songs of the Baka people when they gathered around their fires on the other side of the river could delight him more. As always, it felt good to return to the Dja region, and to the remote Bantu village of Somolomo.

Behind the hut, children were at play, whirling up the dust from the red earth, shrill voices prompting congregations of weaver birds to burst from the surrounding treetops.

He got to his feet and went towards the light that flooded in from the window, placing his elbows on the sill and beaming a smile at the girl’s mother, who stood by the hut opposite and was about to sever the head of the day’s chicken.

It was the last time Louis would ever smile.

Some two hundred metres away a sinewy man and his escort appeared from the path by the palm grove, an ominous sign right from the start. He recognized Mbomo’s muscular frame from Yaoundé, but he had never seen the Caucasian with the chalk-white hair.

‘Why is Mbomo here and who’s that with him?’ he called out to the girl’s mother.

She gave a shrug. Tourists were not an unusual sight on the edge of the rain forest, so why should she be concerned? Four or five days’ trekking with the Baka in the dense chaos of the Dja jungle, wasn’t that what it was all about? At least for a European with plenty of money?

But Louis sensed something more. He could tell by the body language of the two men. Something wasn’t right. The white man was no tourist and Mbomo had no business here in the district without first having informed Louis. After all, Louis was in charge of the Danish development project and Mbomo was merely an errand boy for the government officials in Yaoundé. Such were the roles.

Were the two men up to something he wasn’t supposed to know about? The idea was by no means unlikely. Strange things went on all the time in the course of the project. Processes were slow, the flow of information had all but dried up, payments were continually delayed or else never transpired. Not exactly what he’d been promised when they hired him for the job.

Louis shook his head. He was a Bantu himself, from the opposite corner of Cameroon, hundreds of kilometres north-west of the village here in the borderland close to Congo. Where he came from, a suspicious nature was something you were born with and perhaps the single most important reason Louis had devoted his life to working for the gentle Baka, the pygmy people of the Dja jungle, whose origins could be traced back to the time when the forests were virgin. People in whose language malicious words such as suspicion did not even exist.

For Louis, these amiable souls were a human oasis of goodness in an otherwise loathsome world. The close relationships he had established with the Baka and their homeland were Louis’s elixir and solace. And yet the suspicion of malice was now upon him.

Could he never be truly free of it?

He found Mbomo’s 4x4 parked behind the third row of huts, its driver fast asleep behind the wheel in a sweat-drenched football jersey.

‘Is Mbomo looking for me, Silou?’ he asked the stocky black man, who stretched his limbs and struggled to get his bearings.

The man shook his head. Apparently he had no idea what Louis was talking about.

‘Who is the white man Mbomo has with him? Do you know him?’ Louis persisted.

The driver yawned.

‘Is he a Frenchman?’

‘No,’ came the reply, Silou shrugging his shoulders. ‘He speaks some French, but I think he is from the north.’

‘OK.’ Louis felt the unease in his stomach. ‘Could he be a Dane?’

The driver pointed an index finger at him.


That was it. And Louis didn’t like it one bit.

When Louis wasn’t fighting for the future of the Baka, he was fighting for the animals of the forest. Every village surrounding the Baka’s jungle fostered young Bantus armed with rifles, and every day scores of mandrill and antelope fell prey to their bullets.

Though relations were tense between Louis and the poachers, he remained pragmatic enough not to turn down a lift through the bush on the back of one of their motorcycles. Three kilometres along narrow paths to the Baka village in just six minutes. Who could say no when time was of the essence?

Even as the mud-built huts appeared in front of them Louis knew what had happened, for only the smallest of the children and hungry dogs came running out to greet him.

Louis found the village chief lying flat out on a bed of palm leaves, a cloud of alcohol fumes lingering in the air above. Strewn on the ground around the semi-conscious Mulungo were empty whisky bottles like the ones they thrust into your face on the other side of the river. There was no doubt the binge had gone on through the night and, judging by the silence that prevailed, it seemed equally plain that just about all the villagers had taken part.

He poked his head inside the over-populated huts of mud and bowed palm branches, finding only a few adults capable of acknowledging his presence with a sluggish nod in his direction.

This is how they make the natives toe the line and keep their mouths shut, he thought. Just give them alcohol and drugs and they’d be in the palm of your hand.

That was it exactly.

He went back to the musty hut and kicked the chief hard in the side, causing Mulungo’s wiry body to give a start. A sheepish smile revealed a set of needle-sharp teeth, but Louis wasn’t about to be appeased.

He gestured towards the litter of bottles.

‘What did you do for the money, Mulungo?’ he asked.

The Baka chief lifted his head and gave a shrug. ‘Reason’ was a concept not much used in the bush.

‘Mbomo gave you the money, didn’t he? How much did he give you?’

‘Ten thousand francs!’ came the reply. Exact sums, especially of this order, were by contrast a matter in which the Baka took considerable interest.

Louis nodded. That bastard Mbomo. Why had he done it?

‘Ten thousand,’ he said. ‘And how often does Mbomo do this?’

Mulungo shrugged again. Time was a relative concept.

‘I see you people haven’t planted the new crops as you were supposed to. Why not?’

‘The money has not arrived, Louis. You know that, surely?’

‘Not arrived, Mulungo? I’ve seen the transfer documents myself. The money was sent more than month ago.’

What had happened? This was the third time reality had failed to match up with the paperwork.

Louis raised his head. Beyond the sibilant song of the cicadas, an alien sound became audible. As far as he could make out, it was a small motorcycle.

Mbomo was already on his way, Louis would bet on it. Perhaps he came to offer a plausible explanation. Louis hoped so.

He looked around. Something was certainly not right here, to say the least, but that would soon change. For although Mbomo was a head taller than Louis and had arms as strong as a gorilla’s, Louis was not afraid of him.

If the Baka were unable to answer his questions, the big man could do so himself. Why had he come? Where was the money? Why had they not begun to plant? And who was the white man Mbomo had been with?

That’s what he wanted to know.

So he stood on the open ground in the middle of the village and waited as the cloud of dust that rose up above the steaming bush slowly approached.

Even before Mbomo dismounted, Louis would go to meet him, throw his arms wide and confront him. He would threaten him with brimstone and fire and exposure to the authorities. He would tell him to his face that if he had been embezzling funds intended to help secure the Baka’s existence here in the forest, the next thing Mbomo would lay his itchy fingers on would be the bars of a cell in the Kondengui prison.

The mere mention of the place would frighten the wits out of anyone.

And then the cicadas’ song was drowned out by the noise of the small engine.

As the motorcycle came out of the bush and entered the open ground, its tinny horn sounding, Louis noticed the heavy box on the Kawasaki’s pannier rack, and then the village came alive. Sleepy heads popped out from door openings and the more alert of the men emerged as though the subdued sloshing that issued from the box were an omen from the gods of the coming of the Deluge.

Mbomo first handed out whisky bags to the many outstretched hands, then stared threateningly at Louis.

Louis knew the score at once. The machete slung over Mbomo’s shoulder was warning enough. If he didn’t retreat, it would be used against him. And with the state the pygmies were in, he would be unable to count on their help.

‘There’s more where this comes from,’ Mbomo declared, dumping the rest of the alcohol bags from the box onto the ground and at the same moment turning to face Louis.

As Louis instinctively began to run he heard the excited cries of the Baka behind him. If Mbomo catches me I’m done for, he thought, his eyes seeking out openings in the bush or tools the Baka might have left on the ground. Anything at all that might be used against the man who now pursued him.

Louis was lithe, much more agile than Mbomo, who had lived all his life in Douala and Yaoundé and had not learned to be wary of the undergrowth’s treacherous fabric of twisted roots, mounds and hollows. For that reason he felt reassured as the sound of heavy footsteps behind him faded and the unfathomable network of tributary paths leading to the river opened out before him.

Now all he had to do was find one of the dugout canoes before Mbomo caught up with him. As soon as Louis crossed the river he would be safe. The people of Somolomo would protect him.

A pungent, damp smell wafted like a breeze through the green-brown bush and an experienced guide such as Louis knew the signs. Another hundred metres and the river would be there, but the next second he was stumbling out into a swamp that sucked him down to his knees.

For a moment his arms flailed. If he didn’t find a sturdy plant to grab hold of, the mud would swallow him up in no time. And if he was too slow to extract himself, Mbomo would be on top of him. Even now the sound of his tramping feet seemed too close for comfort.

He filled his lungs with air, pressed his mouth shut and stretched his upper body as far as he could until his joints creaked. Thin branches came away in his hand, leaves fell into his wide-open eyes. It took only fifteen seconds for him to get a hold and pull himself up, but it was two seconds too many. There was a rustling in the undergrowth and then the sudden blow of the machete from behind, lodging itself deep into Louis’s shoulder blade. The pain came swift and searing.

Instinctively Louis concentrated on remaining upright. And for that reason alone he was able to come free of the mire and away, as Mbomo’s curses sounded through the trees.

He too had fallen foul of the swamp.

Only when Louis reached the river did he become aware of the full intensity of the pain, and feel how his shirt was clinging to his back.

Drained of all energy, he sank to his knees at the water’s edge. And at that moment Louis Fon realized he was about to die.

As his body toppled forward and the fine gravel of the shore mingled with his hair, he managed to pull his phone from the side pocket of his pants and tap the ‘Messages’ icon.

Every key press was accompanied by a frenzied beat of his heart as it pumped blood out of his body, and when the message was written and he tapped ‘Send’, he faintly registered that there was no signal.

The last thing Louis Fon sensed was the pounding of heavy footsteps on the ground next to him. And then, finally, the phone being prised from his hand.

Mbomo Ziem was satisfied. Soon they would reach the junction of the main road to Yaoundé, and the 4×4 would no longer have to lurch over the potholes of the dark red track through the jungle, and the man beside him had thankfully refrained from passing comment on events. Everything was as it should be. He had shoved Louis Fon’s body into the river. The current and the crocodiles would take care of the rest.

All in all, things had gone well. The only person who could have posed a threat to their activities had been eliminated and the future was once again bright.

Mission accomplished, as they said.

Mbomo looked down at the mobile phone he had snatched from the dying man’s hand. A few francs spent on a new SIM card and his son’s birthday present would be taken care of.

And as he pictured the gleeful smile on the boy’s face, the display lit up in his hand to indicate the signal had returned.

Then a few seconds passed before a discreet little beep confirmed that a text message had been sent.

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Autumn 2008

René E. Eriksen had never been a cautious man. It was perhaps why he had gone from success to failure and back again in an endless chain of unpredictable events, which in the greater perspective nonetheless gave rise to a certain degree of satisfaction with his life. At the end of the day he put it all down to some kind of innate luck.

Yet in spite of this René was by nature a pensive soul. When faced by the big questions and confrontations of childhood, he had often sought refuge behind his mother’s skirts. Accordingly, in adult life he instinctively made sure always to have a reasonably foolproof exit strategy on hand when casting himself into uncharted depths.

For that reason he had taken time to think things through when his good friend and former schoolmate Teis Snap, now managing director of Karrebæk Bank, had called him up that afternoon at his office in the ministry and put forward a proposal a man in René’s elevated public position under normal circumstances would have considered highly inappropriate.

The bank crises had yet to begin wreaking havoc, but these were days in which the greed of speculators and the irresponsibility of government financial policy were becoming plain to anyone who earned a living lending money.

That was why Teis Snap called.

‘I’m afraid to say that Karrebæk Bank will go bust within two months unless we can get our hands on extra capital,’ he’d said.

‘What about my shares?’ René blurted out with a frown, his heart already pounding at the thought of the first-class retirement he had been promised under Mediterranean palms now collapsing like a house of cards.

‘What can I say? If we don’t come up with something drastic right away, we’re going to lose everything we own. That’s the reality of the matter, I’m afraid,’ Snap replied.

The silence that ensued was a pause between friends. The kind of interlude that left no room for protest or more abstract comment.

René allowed his head to drop for a moment and inhaled so deeply it hurt. So this was the situation, and swift action was imperative. He felt his stomach knot, perspiration cold on his brow, but as head of office in the Evaluation Department for Development Assistance he was used to forcing his mind to think clearly under duress.

He exhaled. ‘Extra capital, you say? And what would that involve, more exactly?’

‘Two hundred, perhaps two hundred and fifty million kroner over four to five years.’

Sweat trickled down under René’s collar. ‘For Christ’s sake, Teis! That’s fifty million a year!’

‘I’m aware of that, and I find it most regrettable indeed. We’ve done everything in our power to draw up contingency plans these past four weeks, but our customer base just isn’t stable enough. The last two years we’ve been far too eager to lend money without sufficient security. We know that now, with the property market collapsing.’

‘Bloody hell! We need to do something quick. Haven’t we got time to withdraw our personal assets?’

‘I’m afraid it’s already too late, René. The shares have plummeted this morning and all trading’s temporarily suspended.’

‘I see.’ René noted how cold his voice suddenly sounded. ‘And what do you expect me to do about it? I’m assuming you’re not just calling to tell me you’ve squandered my savings, are you? I know you, Teis. How much did you salvage for yourself?’

His old friend sounded offended, but his voice was clear: ‘Nothing, René, not a penny, I swear. The accountants intervened. Not all accountancy firms are prepared to step in with creative solutions in a situation like this. The reason I’m calling is because I think I may have found a way out, one that might also be quite lucrative for you.’

And thus the swindle was initiated. It had been running for several months now, and things had gone smoothly indeed until a minute ago when the department’s most experienced staff member, William Stark, suddenly appeared, waving a sheet of paper in front of him.

‘OK, Stark,’ said René. ‘So you’ve received some contorted text message from Louis Fon and haven’t been able to get in touch with him since. But you know as well as I do that Cameroon is a long way from here and connections aren’t reliable, even at the best of times, so don’t you suppose that might be where the problem lies?’

Unfortunately Stark appeared less than convinced, and at that moment a warning of potential chaos in René’s future seemed to materialize.

Stark pressed his already thin lips into a pencil line. ‘But how can we be sure?’ He gazed pensively at the floor, his unruly red fringe drooping down in front of his eyes. ‘All I know is that this text message came in when you were on your way back from Cameroon. And nobody’s seen Louis Fon since. No one.’

‘Hmm. But if he’s still in the Dja region, mobile phone coverage is practically non-existent.’ René reached across the desk. ‘Let me see that message, Stark.’

René tried to keep his hand steady as Stark handed him the sheet of paper.

He read the message:


He wiped the treacherous perspiration from his brow with the back of his hand. Thank God. It was gibberish.

‘Well, it does seem rather odd, Stark, I’ll grant you that. The question is, does it warrant further attention? It looks to me like the phone just went haywire in Louis Fon’s pocket,’ he said, putting the paper down on the desk. ‘I’ll have someone follow up on it, but I can tell you that Mbomo Ziem and I were in contact with Louis Fon the same day we drove to Yaoundé and we saw nothing out of the ordinary. He was packing for his next expedition. Some Germans, as far as I remember.’

William Stark peered at him darkly and shook his head.

‘You say it probably doesn’t warrant further attention, but have a look at the message again. Do you think it’s coincidental that it ends on the word “Dja”? I don’t. I think Louis Fon was trying to tell me something, and that something serious may have happened to him.’

René pursed his lips. In all ministerial posts it was a question of never appearing dismissive of even the most ridiculous hypothesis. That much he had learned over the years.

Which was why he replied with, ‘Yes, it is a bit strange, isn’t it?’

René reached for his Sony Ericsson, which was lying on the windowsill behind him. ‘ “Dja”, you say.’ He studied the phone’s keypad and nodded. ‘Yes, it could be accidental. Look, D, J and A are the first letters on their respective keys. Press 3, 5 and 2 and you’ve got “dja”. Not impossible while it’s just lying in a person’s pocket, though the odds would certainly seem slender. So, yes, it definitely is strange I just reckon we should wait a few days and see if Louis turns up. In the meantime I’ll get in touch with Mbomo.’

He watched William Stark as he left the office, following his every movement until the door was shut. Again he wiped his brow. So it was Louis Fon’s mobile Mbomo had been playing around with in the Land Rover on their way back to the capital.

Bloody idiot!

He clenched his fists and shook his head. Mbomo being infantile enough to steal the mobile from Fon’s body was one thing, quite another was that he had not come clean when René asked him about it. And how the hell could the big dope have been stupid enough not to check for unsent messages? If he’d stolen the phone from the body, why hadn’t he removed the battery as a matter of course, or at least reset its memory? What kind of bloody imbecile would steal a phone from the man he had just killed, anyway?

He shook his head again. Mbomo was a clown, but right now the problem wasn’t Mbomo, it was William Stark. In fact, Stark had been a danger all along. Hadn’t he said that from the start? Hadn’t he told Teis Snap the same thing?

Bugger it! No one possessed an overview of the department’s agreements and budget frameworks comparable to Stark’s. No one was anywhere near as meticulous as he in the evaluation of the ministry’s projects. So if anyone could uncover René’s misuse of development funds, it was William Stark.

René took a deep breath and considered his next move. The options weren’t exactly multiple.

‘If ever you should run into problems in this matter,’ Teis Snap had said, ‘then call us immediately.’

That was what he now intended to do.